Athletes and aviation: a dangerous partnership

Roy Halladay perished in a small-plane crash off the coast of Florida. Photo: WTVT-TV FOX 13 Tampa Bay, via AP.
Roy Halladay perished in a small-plane crash off the coast of Florida. Photo: WTVT-TV FOX 13 Tampa Bay, via AP.

The sports world woke on November 8 to the news Roy Halladay, a future baseball hall-of-famer, had perished in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico. He was 40 years old.

Halladay had picked up flying as a post-career hobby, and was piloting an ICON A5 at the time of the fatal accident.

Unfortunately, Halladay isn’t the first athlete to die in a plane crash, and he almost certainly won’t be the last.

The sporting world lost a legend, but more importantly, a family lost a husband and father.

Sporting history is checkered with aviation disasters which have gutted clubs, fans and families. Possibly the most well-known was the death of golfer Payne Stewart in 1999.

Stewart was traveling from his home in Orlando, Florida to Dallas, Texas when Air Traffic Control lost contact with his plane. When the plane did not turn towards Texas, it was clear something was wrong.

Stewart’s plane crashed near Aberdeen, South Dakota, more than 1500 kilometres north of its intended destination. An investigation found all six people on board suffered hypoxia due to a cabin-pressure failure.

Hypoxia is a condition where the body does not get sufficient oxygen. It renders the sufferer unconscious, and will eventually kill if not dealt with quickly.

There have been multiple crashes which have killed many members of one team. In November 2016, LaMia Flight 2933 was carrying Brazilian football club Chapecoense players to their Copa Sudamericana final in Medellin, Colombia. The plane ran out of fuel during its approach and crashed into a mountain.

Of the 22 players on the flight, 19 perished. One survivor lost a leg.

There was an outpouring of support in the wake of the disaster, with a number of Brazilian clubs offering to loan players to Chapecoense for free. The club turned down these offers, and has managed to rebuild from the disaster. It’s only a year since the crash, yet the club are in 13th position in Brazil’s Serie A.

These are just a few of the disasters that have affected athletes over the history of aviation.

British footballer Bobby Charlton survived a 1958 plane crash that killed eight members of the Manchester United Football Club - now one of the most powerful in world football.

Marshall University in West Virginia lost its entire American Football team in a 1970 crash. They won two national championships in the 1990s. 

And in 2011, 26 members of Russian professional ice hockey club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl were killed when their plane failed to take off. Right now, the team is placed fourth in its division.

Flying is getting safer. The number of fatal crashes per year has been steadily declining since 1995.

This doesn’t bring back Roy Halladay though. The sporting world lost a legend, but more importantly, a family lost a husband and father.

Let’s hope technological advances will see the end to these tragedies.

This story Athletes and aviation: a dangerous partnership first appeared on Bay Post-Moruya Examiner.

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