NTSB: Roy Halladay was doing stunts, had amphetamines in system when plane crashed

©The Philadelphia Inquirer

Ron Cortes/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS

Roy Halladay was performing a series of stunts in his airplane and had high levels of amphetamines in his system along with other drugs when he crashed his small plane into the Gulf of Mexico and died in 2017, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Halladay, who finished his Hall of Fame career by pitching four seasons with the Phillies, performed three maneuvers in his ICON A5 plane before crashing, the report said. The maneuvers put loads of nearly two times gravity on the plane, and witnesses described them as “spins” and “rolls.”

Several witnesses told the NTSB that they saw Halladay’s airplane, which he purchased a month earlier, flying as low as five feet over the water as it maneuvered close to the shoreline in Pasco County, Fla.

A toxicology report said Halladay, 40, had the sedative zolpidem, amphetamine, morphine, fluoxetine, baclofen, and hydromorphone in his system. The level of amphetamines in Halladay’s blood (2.2 ug/ml) was roughly 10 times greater than the therapeutic level, according to the report.

Generally, the report said, levels above 0.2 ug/ml are the result of misusing amphetamine to maximize its psychoactive effects. Fluoxetine is an antidepressant that warns it “has the potential to impair judgment, thinking, or motor skills.” Baclofen is a muscle relaxant.

On the last maneuver, Halladay entered a steep climb and his speed fell to about 85 miles per hour, according to the report. The propeller-driven plane went into a nosedive and smashed into the water. The report said the crash was an accident and that Halladay died of blunt force trauma and drowning.

Halladay’s father, Harry, told the NTSB that he was concerned that his son was abusing prescription medications and that it may have played a role in the accident. Harry Halladay said his son enrolled a couple of years earlier in an in-house detox program for an addiction to lorazepam, another sedative. Halladay’s primary care physician said the former pitcher went to inpatient rehab in 2013 and from January to March 2015. At the time, Halladay had been abusing opioids and benzodiazepine, a tranquilizer, according to the report.

Halladay had 14.5 hours of flight experience in the plane that crashed, which is a two-seat amphibious light-sport airplane that can land and take off on water. Halladay received his pilot’s license in 2013 and had about 700 hours of flight experience.

In May 2017, the man who designed the ICON A5 died while flying over Lake Berryessa in California. The NTSB attributed the crash to pilot error and ICON issued guidance to its owners two weeks before Halladay’s crash saying that low-altitude flying “comes with an inherent set of additional risks that require additional considerations.” Kirk Hawkins, the CEO of ICON, told the NTSB that Halladay received and reviewed those guidelines.

Two weeks before the crash, Halladay flew under the Skyway Bridge, which has a 180-foot vertical clearance over the Lower Tampa Bay. A few days later, Halladay tweeted that he keeps telling his father that flying the “ICON A5 low over the water is like flying a fighter jet!” Halladay said his father responded, “I am flying a fighter jet!!”

The Phillies added Halladay to their Wall of Fame in 2018 and he was inducted last summer into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The team announced in February that it would retire Halladay’s No. 34 on May 29, which was the 10th anniversary of the pitcher’s perfect game against the Marlins.

———

©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer