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Witnesses saw ex-pitcher Roy Halladay flying near water before fatal plane crash

NEW PORT RICHEY — A number of witnesses reported that a sport plane piloted by Roy Halladay was flying low over the Gulf of Mexico off New Port Richey before crashing and killing the former All Star pitcher, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

Halladay, 40, was flying alone in the two-seat, single-propeller ICON 5 airplane when it hit the water shortly after noon on Tuesday. Halladay's body was found floating among the wreckage and patches of mangroves near Ben Pilot Point.

The gossip website TMZ published mobile phone video that it claims was shot by nearby boaters, showing Halladay's plane descending from around 100 feet in the air to around 5 feet before crashing into the shallow water.

NTSB accident investigator Noreen Price declined to comment on the video at a news conference Wednesday, but said, "generally a lot of witnesses have said that the plane was maneuvering at a low altitude."

It appears no flight plan had been filed and no mayday calls were made to air traffic controllers in Tampa but confirming that could take several days, Price said. The wrekcage of the plane and two flight data recorders were recovered Wednesday afternoon for further analysis, which should yield flight data including GPS locations and the aircraft's performance, altitude and airspeed, she said.

"Our mission is to understand not just what happened but why it happened," Price said. "If we see anything we think is unsafe we'll make the necessary recommendations immediately."

It could take two years to complete the investigation, Price said. A preliminary report should be released in seven to 10 days.

Halladay likely took off from Odessa, where he lives with his wife Brandy and two teenage sons, Price said. The National Weather Service reported clear skies and unlimited visibility in the area at the time of the crash.

The time of death was 12:19 p.m., said William A. Pellan, director of investigations with the Medical Examiner's Office in Largo. Toxicology tests and Halladay's autopsy were completed Wednesday morning, It could take up to two months to get results so the cause of death remains pending.

The son of a commercial pilot, Halladay spoke in articles and on social media about his love of flying but his Major League Baseball contracts prohibited him from obtaining a pilot's license until he quit playing in 2013. Since then, he has logged 700 flight hours, Price said.

Halladay pitched 16 years in the majors and was a star with the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, both teams that train in Pinellas County. He was a two-time winner of baseball's top pitching honor, the Cy Young Award.

Halladay had owned the new Founders Edition of the ICON A5 aircraft for less than a month and it had just been certified Monday by the Federal Aviation Administration. He was the first person to take possession of the 2018 model, only 20 of which have been manufactured, according to an article on the company's website.

There are orders for more than 1,800 more, most of them from the Tampa area, selected by ICON as its East Coast headquarters. Last November, ICON opened a flight school at Tampa's Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands, the only training center outside its headquarters in Vacaville, Calif.

The website article features video of a beaming Halladay taking his wife Brandy on a flight. Although she grew to enjoy her husband's passion for flying, she said in the article, she initially "fought hard. I was very against it."

The company declined to comment Wednesday. Price said ICON and Rotax, maker of the airplane's three-blade, push-prop engine, are cooperating in the investigation.

An "amphibious airplane," the ICON A5 can land on water and can be flown with only a sport pilot license, which requires a minimum of 20 hours of in-flight training — less than half the time required for a traditional private pilot's license.

In May the plane's designer, ICON's chief test pilot Jon Karkow, was flying an ICON A5 when he crashed into a canyon wall at Lake Berryessa in Napa, California. Both he and passenger Cagri Sever, a new employee at ICON, died in the crash, the reports said.

The NTSB determined Karkow was to blame, saying, "It is likely that the pilot mistakenly thought the canyon that he entered was a different canyon that led to the larger, open portion of the lake."

Contact Anastasia Dawson at Follow @adawsonwrites