Baseball Hall of Famer Roy Halladay was doing extreme acrobatics and had high levels of amphetamines in his system when he lost control of his small plane and nosedived into the Gulf of Mexico in 2017, killing him, a National Transportation Safety Board report issued Wednesday said.
Halladay had amphetamine levels about 10 times therapeutic levels in his blood along with a high level of morphine and an antidepressant that can impair judgment as he performed high-pitch climbs and steep turns, sometimes within 5 feet of the water, the report says about the Nov. 7, 2017, crash.
The maneuvers put loads of nearly two-times gravity on the plane, an Icon A5 — a light sport two-seat amphibious aircraft that Halladay had purchased a month earlier. On the last maneuver, Halladay entered a steep climb and his speed fell to about 85 mph, according to the report. The propeller-driven plane went into a nosedive and smashed into the water.
The report says Halladay, 40, died of blunt force trauma and drowning.
The report does not give a final reason for the crash. The factual report released Wednesday by the NTSB typically precedes the final report by a few weeks, spokesperson Terry Williams told ESPN on Wednesday.
“It happened. I can’t take it back for him,” Halladay’s younger sister, Heather, told ESPN. “I know what type of person my brother was and that’s all that really matters to me. I do miss him like crazy and that’s what this all brings up.”
Less than two weeks before the crash, the former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies star had flown the plane under Tampa Bay’s iconic Skyway Bridge while en route from the Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa, Florida, to his home, according to GPS data gathered by the NTSB.
The Skyway Bridge has a vertical clearance over the water of 180 feet.
“Flying the Icon A5 over the water is like flying a fighter jet!” Halladay posted on social media on Oct. 31, 2017.
I keep telling my dad flying the Icon A5 low over the water is like flying a fighter jet! His response….. I am flying a fighter jet!! pic.twitter.com/30eVjz9eS6
— Roy Halladay (@RoyHalladay) October 31, 2017
Though he had logged more than 700 hours as a private pilot, Halladay had only 14.5 hours of flight time in the Icon A5 aircraft that crashed.
Halladay, an eight-time All-Star, pitched a perfect game and a playoff no-hitter in 2010. He played for the Blue Jays from 1998 to 2009 and for the Phillies from 2009 to 2013, going 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously last year.
Halladay had taken off from a lake behind his home about 15 minutes before the crash, and a previous report says he was flying at about 105 mph just 11 feet above the water before he started doing his maneuvers.
Witness David Sharp was in his screened-in lanai in the backyard of his home in New Port Richey when he saw Halladay’s plane flying 12 to 14 feet above the water. He told an NTSB investigator that he was shocked to see an airplane flying that low.
Another witness, Fred Gruden, was working on a home in New Port Richey when he saw Halladay’s plane going into steep climbs and dives.
“He noted that while the airplane was nearly vertical at the peak of the maneuver, the airplane was high,” the report says in its description of Gruden’s eyewitness account. “… He then noted a splash, and called 911.”
Another witness, Allan Dopirak, was fishing off the coast of New Port Richey when he saw Halladay flying “really close” to the houses of Gulf Harbor, according to the report.
Halladay’s plane crashed in an area known as Sand Bay, in 3 to 4 feet of water.
The initial autopsy in January 2018 showed Halladay had evidence of amphetamine, morphine and an insomnia drug in his system, but it didn’t specify how much.
The four drugs in his system included the sleep aid zolpidem (more commonly called Ambien), morphine, the antidepressant fluoxetine and a muscle relaxant known as baclofen.
The NTSB report notes zolpidem could have been metabolized from a medication to treat attention deficit disorder, such as Adderall. The morphine, the report says, stemmed from Halladay’s use of prescription painkiller hydromorphone, an opioid pain medication.
The report notes that sedatives, antidepressants, muscle relaxants and prescription pain medications all come with warnings about using them while driving or operating heavy machinery.
The report also provided new information about Halladay’s medical history.
“During a visit in September 2015, the pilot’s primary care physician notes a history of substance abuse with inpatient rehab treatment in 2013 and another from January-March in 2015. At the time, the pilot had been abusing opioids and benzodiazepines,” the NTSB report states.
Halladay was noted to have chronic back pain, according to the report. He cited injuries to his back and shoulder when he retired from baseball in December 2013.
In 2015, according to the NTSB report, Halladay “told the physician he was being treated for depression and the records document he was taking Adderall and Prozac.”
Halladay had received his pilot’s license in 2013 and had 51 overall hours in Icon A5s.
Rolled out in 2014, the A5 is an amphibious aircraft meant to be treated like an ATV, a piece of weekend recreational gear with folding wings that can easily be towed on a trailer to a lake where it can take off from the water.
The man who led the plane’s design, 55-year-old John Murray Karkow, died while flying an A5 over California’s Lake Berryessa on May 8, 2017, a crash the NTSB attributed to pilot error.
Because of that crash, Icon issued guidance to its owners two weeks before Halladay’s accident saying that while low-altitude flying “can be one of the most rewarding and exciting types of flying,” it “comes with an inherent set of additional risks that require additional considerations.”
It added that traditional pilot training focused on high-altitude flying “does little to prepare pilots for the unique challenges of low altitude flying.”
Icon told the NTSB that Halladay had received and reviewed the guidance.
There is no indication in the report that Halladay received low-altitude training.
ESPN’s John Barr and The Associated Press contributed to this report.