Roy Halladay Death: New Findings Expose Potential Cause for MLB Pitcher’s Plane Crash

Roy Halladay was one of the top pitchers in Major League Baseball in the 2000s. During his 16-year career, he had the rare distinction of winning two Cy Young awards, with one each coming in the American League and the National League. His life was tragically cut short in 2017, when he died in a plane crash at the age of 40. The NTSB recently released its report detailing what led to the deadly accident, and information from that report indicates that the crash may have been preventable, with a combination of drugs and reckless flying likely the leading causes of the crash.

Roy Halladay in Toronto Blue Jays Uniform seated in front of a textured brown background
Roy Halladay | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Roy Halladay’s baseball career

Halladay was drafted out of high school, a first-round pick by the Blue Jays in 1995. He made his MLB debut in 1998, but his first full season as a starter didn’t come until 2002, when he went 19-7 in 34 starts, with a 2.93 ERA. He had three 20-win seasons in his career and ultimately compiled a 203-105 mark with the Blue Jays and Phillies. His Cy Youngs came in 2003 and 2010, and he retired following the 2013 season as he suffered from a persistent back injury. Halladay was an eight-time all-star, and he was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019, getting voted in during his first year of eligibility.

How Halladay died

Halladay was an avid pilot after having taken up the hobby following his retirement, and on that fateful day in November 2017, he was flying his ICON A5 light sport aircraft, which he acquired earlier that year. In an interview posted on the manufacturer’s website, Halladay called it “the safest and easiest aircraft” he had ever flown, in addition to the most fun. But the plane crashed about 10 miles west of St. Petersburg, Fla., and was recovered in the Gulf of Mexico. Halladay, who was married with two children, was the only person on-board the aircraft. He died from blunt trauma and drowning from the crash and subsequent submersion in the water. Halladay’s sudden passing sent shock waves throughout baseball and beyond, with celebrities and athletes from the entertainment and sports industries sharing their thoughts about his death and social media. In 2018, an autopsy report indicated that he had multiple drugs in his system at the time of the crash. He had 14.5 hours of total flight experience in the airplane.

The NTSB releases its report

The report the NTSB released has shed some additional light on the accident. It states that multiple witnesses “saw the airplane flying very low, between five and 300 ft., over the water” as it flew south close to the shore. Some witnesses, according to the report, said “the airplane was making steep turns and high-pitch climbs up to about 500 ft. and that the engine sounded normal.”

While the report doesn’t provide a definitive reason for the crash, it explains that Halladay was flying the two-seater at low altitudes and, in the last two-and-a-half minutes before the crash, “conducted three maneuvers with high angles of attack and load factors of almost 2 Gs.” The NTSB’s report expanded on the drugs that were in Halladay’s body when he crashed the plane. According to the report, he had an antidepressant, a sleep aid, a muscle relaxer, ibuprofen, and two opioids in his system. Halladay also had amphetamine levels that were “well above” therapeutic levels. Given the NTSB’s findings, the crash that killed Halladay was likely preventable if he did not have so many drugs in his system, and if he wasn’t being as reckless with the craft.