Before he crashed, Roy Halladay flew within 75 feet of houses and skimmed the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a report published Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The report, which did not address the cause of the crash, described in detail the 17-minute flight on Nov. 7 that ended when the former Major League Baseball pitcher's light sport aircraft dove into the water, killing him. Halladay's Icon A5, a two-seat amphibious aircraft with foldable wings that allow it to be towed on roadways, had a data recorder that logged GPS and engine information and flight parameters, allowing the NTSB to assemble a comprehensive account of what preceded the crash.
Halladay took off from a lake near his home in Odessa about 11:47 a.m. and climbed to an altitude of 1,909 feet, the report said. He flew north for four miles before turning west. He flew for 10 miles toward the coast, descending so that by the time he crossed U.S. 19 he was about 600 feet in the air. Halladay kept descending, dropping to 36 feet over the water, and then turned south. He buzzed by Green Key Beach going 92 knots at an altitude of only 11 feet above the Gulf, the report said.
Halladay then performed a 360-degree turn and continued south, passing just 75 feet from homes in the Gulf Harbors South Beach neighborhood. The last data collected by the flight recorder put the plane at an altitude of 200 feet flying south at 87 knots.
Video recorded just before the accident showed the plane in a steep descending left turn, dropping to about 10 feet from the water, the report said. An unidentified witness told an NTSB investigator he then saw the plane climb to between 300 and 500 feet above the water before entering into a 45 degree nose-down dive toward the water. That's when the plane hit the water a quarter-mile west of Ben Pilot Point near New Port Richey and flipped over its nose, the witness said.
Rescuers found the plane upside down in about 4.5 feet of water. The fuselage and cockpit were heavily damaged, the report said, and the tail was ripped off. Investigators were able to collect all the flight controls and major components of the aircraft.
At the time of the crash, skies were clear, the wind was calm and the visibility was 10 miles, the report said.
Halladay was a 16-year MLB veteran with the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, both of which hold spring training and have minor league teams in North Pinellas. He twice won the Cy Young Award, which goes to the top pitcher in each league, and was considered one of the most dominant pitchers of his time before he retired in 2013.
As a pilot, Halladay accumulated more than 700 flight hours, about 50 which were in an Icon A5 and 14 were in the accident aircraft. He was the only person in the plane. He had taken delivery of it four weeks before the accident.
It could be up to a year before the NTSB makes its official determination about what caused the crash, but Ross Aimer, a 40-year commercial pilot, said Halladay's "reckless" flying was likely a factor.
"Sadly, this looks like a typical case of pilot hot-dogging," said Aimer, a 33,000-hour pilot who is now the CEO of Aero Consulting Experts.
Aimer called the 45 degree nose dive an "extreme maneuver," which, he said, should be reserved for air-showmen or those with special training.
"He lost control of the aircraft or the aircraft couldn't come out of that unusual attitude," Aimer said.
Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibit flying within 500 of a structure. When Halladay flew 75 feet from homes, he was breaking the rules, according to Aimer.
"He came way too close," he said. "Sadly the outcome is indicative of why these laws and regulations are made."
It was the kind of flying that could have resulted in FAA sanctions if Halladay hadn't crashed, Aimer said.
Aimer said that since the plane recorded flight data and the NTSB was able to recover all the wreckage, it should have no problem deciphering what went wrong. It could be that crash investigators find a problem with the plane, he said.
"But that type of hot-dogging will basically increase the chance of structure failure," Aimes said. "You're putting too much demand on the aircraft."
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.