NEW PORT RICHEY — Roy Halladay, a former Major League Baseball all star pitcher who became a beloved youth coach in Tampa Bay, died Tuesday when his plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico.
He was 40 years old.
A resident in the Gulf Harbors neighborhood called authorities shortly after noon to report a small plane floating upside-down in the water about a quarter mile west of Ben Pilot Point near New Port Richey, according to Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco.
A rescue team recovered Halladay’s body in six feet of water, floating among mangroves and pieces of his plane.
"The worst case scenario happened, and it just breaks our hearts," Nocco said, calling Halladay a friend who had bought a police dog, which goes by Halladay’s own nickname, "Doc," for the Sheriff’s Office. "His kids went to school with our kids. He was there whenever we needed him and he was probably one of the most humble human beings you would ever meet."
Most baseball fans know Halladay as one of the best pitchers of his era, a star for the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, both of which train in Pinellas County. He pitched 16 years in the majors, twice winning the Cy Young Award, which goes to the top pitcher in each league. He finished in the top five in voting five other times.
Major League Baseball shared its condolences with Halladay’s family in a tweet, saying it was "saddened by the tragic news."
Halladay was the only person aboard the plane and apparently did not send a mayday call before hitting the water, Nocco said. No recording devices were recovered in the wreckage, according to the sheriff.
After his retirement in 2013, Halladay settled in the Tampa Bay area and was heavily involved in coaching youth baseball teams. He lived in Odessa and was a volunteer assistant coach at Calvary Christian High School this spring. His son, Braden, was a sophomore pitcher on the team, which went 30-0 and won the Class 4A state championship, the school’s first state title in any team sport.
"Calvary Christian High School and Calvary Church are deeply saddened by the news of the death of our assistant baseball coach, Roy Halladay," the school said in a statement. "His achievements (were) as an MLB icon, but we knew him as Coach Halladay."
Lately, Halladay’s Twitter page had been full of videos and images of his ICON A5 plane. On Halloween, he posted that flying it low over the water felt like piloting a fighter jet.
ICON on October 12 announced it had delivered its first 2018 model of the A5, a $389,000 "Founders Edition," to Halladay and described him as a "regular" renter.
"I’ve been dreaming about flying since I was a boy but was only able to become a pilot once I retired from baseball," Halladay said in the company announcement.
His enthusiasm for the air was apparent to others, too.
"When it comes to his passions he talked about baseball, he talked about his family and he talked about flying," Nocco said.
ICON declined to comment Tuesday afternoon.
The A5 is a single-engine, high wing aircraft that seats two people. It’s amphibious, so it can land on solid ground or water. It’s unique in that its wings fold to allow towing.
The plane is a light sport aircraft, meaning it falls below certain weight and maximum speed thresholds. The Federal Aviation Administration mandates fewer hours of training for light sport pilots.
Halladay did not file a flight plan Tuesday, according to flightaware.com, which tracks aircraft movement. The National Weather Service reported clear skies and unlimited visibility in the area at the time of the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board was set to send an investigator to the crash site in Pasco County late Tuesday, though it could take as long as two years to determine what caused the plane to go down. Investigators will examine weather data, Halladay’s pilot history and the wreckage, as well as any witness statements.
In May, two of ICON’s employees, including the lead engineer for the A5, died in a crash in one of the planes in California. An NTSB investigation determined that it was the result of pilot error, and the company in August vowed to continue their work.
Halladay’s death stunned the baseball world Tuesday afternoon, with both former opponents and teammates universally praising him on social media.
The Blue Jays organization said it was "overcome by grief with the tragic loss of one of the franchise’s greatest and most respected players, but even better human being. Impossible to express what he has meant to this franchise, the city and its fans. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."
The Phillies said they were "numb" over the news and that "There are no words to describe the sadness that the entire Phillies family is feeling over the loss of one of the most respected human beings to ever play the game."
Halladay pitched 16 years in the majors, compiling a 203-105 record and a career 3.38 earned-run average. He threw a perfect game for Philadelphia on May 29, 2010 against the Marlins. Then later that year, in his first postseason start, he threw a no-hitter against the Reds in the division series playoff opener, just the second no-hitter in postseason history, following Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.
He retired in December 2013 because of ongoing back issues, and said at the time he looked forward to spending time coaching his sons but planned to eventually get back in the pro game. He worked as a guest spring training instructor with the Phillies in 2014 and said last February he was talking to teams about getting more involved.
Halladay was well respected throughout the game.
"Halladay is the ultimate competitor," former Phillies teammate Chase Utley told mlb.com upon Halladay’s retirement in December 2013. "He is by far the hardest worker that I’ve ever seen and treated every game as if it were his last. It was no coincidence why he was the best pitcher of his era. I’ll miss his presence and passion but, most of all, I will miss his intensity."
"It’s hard to fathom," said Buck Martinez, who managed Halladay with the Blue Jays in 2001-02 and is longtime broadcaster. "There are certain guys that have a presence that you think they are going to be around forever and I think Roy was one of those guys.’’
Halladay is not the first Major League player to die piloting a plane, joining former New York Yankees captain Thurman Munson in 1979, the Chicago Cubs’ Ken Hubbs in 1964 and most recently Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, who crashed a small aircraft in New York City in 2006. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Roberto Clemente also died in a plane crash, as a passenger on a mission to deliver aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims in 1972.
He leaves his wife, Brandy, and two sons, Braden and Ryan.
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird and staff writers Anastasia Dawson and Rodney Page contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected]