The factual report, which should soon be followed with the final report that includes the NTSB’s determination of probable cause, paints a sad picture of a reckless pilot, heavily impaired by a noxious variety of drugs, operating without full appreciation for the risks of low-altitude flying.
According to the report, Halladay’s Icon plunged into four feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, near the coast of Clearwater, Florida, wings level at about a 45-degree angle. Witnesses observed and cell phone video confirmed Halladay was performing aggressive maneuvers minutes prior to the accident, with high bank angles and exaggerated pitch movements ranging from 500 feet agl, down to just a few feet above the water. In the maneuver preceding the crash, Halladay climbed aggressively and reduced power. The aircraft exceeded an angle of attack that would have induced a stall, then banked hard into a steep nose-down attitude before impacting the water wings level. The report lists blunt force trauma as cause of death with drowning a contributing condition.
The toxicology report listed some seven different drugs in Halladay’s system including sleep aids, amphetamines, morphine, and antidepressants. Some of the drugs registered at extreme levels typically associated with misuse. Halladay struggled with substance abuse and depression in the immediate years following his retirement from Major League Baseball in 2013.
Despite the obvious impact of impairment, Halladay’s accident reinforces unique risks of low-altitude flying, which the AOPA Air Safety Institute addressed soon after the accident.
Halladay held a private pilot certificate with multiengine and single-engine ratings. He had logged about 750 hours total flight time with 50 hours in an Icon. He’d owned his Icon for about a month and logged 15 hours in it prior to the crash. His history flying the Icon is troubling, including his personal logbook entry describing flight underneath the nearby Skyway Bridge, approximately 180 feet above the water.
Halladay’s career as an MLB pitcher included one of only 23 perfect games pitched in MLB history.
Senior Vice President of AOPA Air Safety Institute
Richard McSpadden was appointed executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Institute in February 2017 and was promoted to senior vice president in July 2020. He currently leads a team of certified flight instructors and content creators who develop and distribute aviation safety material –free of charge— in order to advance general aviation safety industrywide. ASI distributes material through a dedicated YouTube channel, iTunes podcasts, Facebook, and a dynamic website. ASI material is accessed 12 million times annually. A native of Panama City, Florida, McSpadden started flying as a teenager and has logged over 5,000 hours flying a variety of civilian and military aircraft. McSpadden is a commercial pilot, CFII, MEI with SES, MES ratings and a 525S (Citation Jet Single Pilot) type rating. He taught his son to fly, instructed his daughter to solo in their Piper Super Cub, previously owned a 1950 Navion that was in his family for almost 40 years, and currently owns a 1993 Piper Super Cub. McSpadden holds a degree in Economics from the University of Georgia, and a Master of Public Administration from Troy University. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Air War College. Prior to joining AOPA, McSpadden had a successful career in the information technology industry, leading large, geographically dispersed operations providing business-critical IT services. McSpadden also served in the Air Force for 20 years, including the prestigious role of commander and flight leader of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team where he led over 100 flight demonstrations flying the lead aircraft. Additionally, McSpadden currently serves as the industry chair for the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee.