Roy Halladay Crash Report Released: Still No Final Cause

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In a detailed—and long delayed—factual report, the NTSB said this week that baseball star Roy Halladay had been flying steep, low-altitude moderate-G maneuvers before he crashed his Icon A5 into the Gulf of Mexico on Nov. 7, 2017. Halladay was killed in the crash, then the second fatal wreck of an A5. The agency also said a toxicology report revealed a cocktail of drugs in Halladay’s blood, including the sleep aid Zolpidem, amphetamine, morphine and Fluoxetine, an antidepressant. A final probable cause statement awaits further review some 28 months after the crash occurred.

The investigation benefited from the Icon’s onboard data acquisition unit and engine data recorder and from several eyewitness reports collected shortly after the crash occurred. According to the NTSB report, Halladay executed a rapid climbing S-turn from near the surface to 134 feet, according to recorded GPS altitude. The load factor reached 1.94 Gs and a maximum AoA of 7.53 degrees. He followed that with a climbing right turn from 19 to 136 feet to a 1.93 G load factor and 15.73 degree AoA.

The final maneuver before the crash was a climbing turn with load factors between 1 and 2Gs, AoA at 15 degrees and a max bank angle of 50 degrees at a GPS altitude of 358 feet. Although the report details Icon’s guidance on using the aircraft’s angle-of-attack indicator and recommendations for risk management at low altitude, it does not suggest the aircraft stalled. “The airplane came to rest inverted in about 4 feet of water and was oriented on a 192-degree heading … the empennage was separated and displaced forward of the wings. All major airplane components were located at the accident scene. The front fuselage and cockpit were highly fragmented, with pieces scattered within a 300-ft radius of the main wreckage,” the report said.

“Multiple witnesses in the area stated that they saw the airplane flying very low, between 5 and 300 feet over the water as the airplane maneuvered south close to the shoreline. Some witnesses reported that the airplane was making steep turns and high-pitch climbs up to about 500 feet and that the engine sounded normal,” the report said. Consistent with the data trace, witnesses said after entering a steep climb, the airplane descended in a steep nose-down attitude and struck the water about 45 degrees nose-down in a wings-level attitude.

Lacking a probable cause, the NTSB offered evaluation on the presence of drugs in the pilot’s body as causative or related, but merely stated that these drugs may affect motor skills and judgment and may cause psychoactive effects. Ibuprofen was also found in the pilot’s urine. It is not considered an impairing drug.

In a statement to USA Today, Halladay’s widow, Brandy, said, “Yesterday’s NTSB report on Roy’s accident was painful for our family, as it has caused us to relive the worst day of our lives. It has reinforced what I have previously stated, that no one is perfect. Most families struggle in some capacity and ours was no exception. We respectfully ask that you not make assumptions or pass judgment.” Ms. Halladay said, “Rather, we encourage you to hug your loved ones and appreciate having them in your lives. As a family, we ask that you allow Roy to rest in peace.”

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22 COMMENTS

    • “Yesterday’s NTSB report on Roy’s accident was painful for our family, as it has caused us to relive the worst day of our lives. It has reinforced what I have previously stated, that no one is perfect. Most families struggle in some capacity and ours was no exception. We respectfully ask that you not make assumptions or pass judgment.” Ms. Halladay said, “Rather, we encourage you to hug your loved ones and appreciate having them in your lives. As a family, we ask that you allow Roy to rest in peace.”

      • I know you want us to be kind. But this family had to know of Halladay’s issues. Whatever they were. Bottom line is the guy was not a nice man and could have killed some Mom and Dad and their kids.
        There is no place in aviation for the likes of him!!

  1. With factual information from toxicology tests to reveal “…a cocktail of drugs in Halladay’s blood, including the sleep aid Zolpidem, amphetamine, morphine and Fluoxetine, an antidepressant…., Icon’s onboard data acquisition unit…Multiple witnesses in the area stated that they saw the airplane flying very low, between 5 and 300 feet over the water as the airplane maneuvered south close to the shoreline. Some witnesses reported that the airplane was making steep turns and high-pitch climbs up to about 500 feet and that the engine sounded normal,” paints a picture of a pilot using drugs that most likely affected Halladay’s ADM. Without any on board data suggesting a stall/spin event, perhaps the cocktail of drugs, some of which may be disqualifying any pilot from taking to the air when discussing medications with a flight physician, wasn’t considered before taking off on a joyride around a local water way. It’s unfortunate for any pilot to assume any medication, legal or not, is ok when a personal or sports physician prescribes meds when further discussion should have included a flight physician. To make this unfortunate report an example of what not to do, I can use myself as an example.

    During flight training for a ppl it rotorcraft, my seasonal allergies is a factor. Discussing over the counter meds with my flight instructor and research online via the FAA’s website on allowable otc meds for allergies, I didn’t risk taking any until discussing it with my flight physician. Training helicopters requires both hands and feet at all times so a sneezing fit, runny nose and tearing eyes tends to make anyone acutely aware of piloting while distracted with personal health issues. Fortunately for me, fresh air didn’t attack me with doors off during every season in NJ where I trained. Having an instructor along and aware of my allergies in case of turning over controls never occurred. When my flight physical came up, I simply asked if brand x antihistamine was allowable. His immediate reply was “Yes!”. I did my homework to determine what my choices were, including discontinuing training if otc or prescribed meds would disqualify me. Imagine a heli pilot suddenly being attacked with a sneezing fit, running nose and tearing eyes, frictions on or not. I achieved my ppl.

  2. “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 had received his pilot’s license in 2013 and had 51 overall hours in Icon A5s. How did he pass his medical?

  3. With all due respect to the family, this was not an purely an accident. It started with a chain of reckless events that culminated in his death.

    A line I told students is: “A pilot usually dies because they did something stupid.”

    This was no exception.

  4. Well, on the brighter side. If one is determined to load up on a boatload of drugs and then get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, the choice of a light seaplane seems far less likely to result in the death of an innocent bystander than choosing something like a similarly priced exotic sports car.

  5. Here we go again. It was a stall/spin. Pilot was an idiot. The airplane is bad. It’s the FAA’s fault. I have heard this for so long for so many accidents, I’m numb.

    The bottom line is that it’s none of these. Humans simply consistently take uncalculated risks that put their lives in question and will continue to do so for eons to come. There’s nothing to learn here that should have not been learned long ago.

    • I agree but I still can’t help believe that Icon’s advertising this airplane as a flying jetski is egregiously irresponsible. Watch their videos of formation flights at low altitude, thru canyons, etc … and “all in 10 hours less time than it takes to get a Private Pilot certificate”. I would suggest that a manufacturer than encourages such risky flying results in higher accident rates than those that don’t but I am open to learning how that would be inconsequential even in this case.