Calgary police charge Sunwing Airlines pilot with being drunk before takeoff
Police have charged a pilot who was found unconscious in the cockpit prior to his plane’s departure from Calgary International Airport Saturday.
Gate crew and crew aboard the flight noticed that the 37-year-old was behaving oddly, and he then became unconscious in the cockpit.
It happened just before 7 a.m. when the Sunwing Airlines pilot boarded an aircraft scheduled to fly to Regina, with a final destination of Cancun, Mexico.
The 737 800 Series aircraft had 99 passengers aboard with six flight crew, including the pilot.
WATCH: Calgary police charge Sunwing Airlines pilot with being drunk before takeoff. Reid Fiest reports.
The pilot, a Slovakian national in Canada on a work visa, was escorted from the aircraft and taken into custody by police.
Police said initial tests indicated the pilot was severely impaired by alcohol, and three times over the legal limit.
“We tested him approximately two hours after we took him into custody and he still blew at that extreme level. So I can’t tell you when he had his last drink but he was pretty high. So it probably wasn’t too long before we took him into custody is my guess,” Calgary Police Sgt. Paul Stacey said.
“Because he has as much alcohol in his system as he does, they’re going to wait until he sobers up somewhat before he goes before a Justice of the Peace.”
Police said the gate crew initially notified the co-pilot about their concerns, that the pilot was showing signs of impairment.
“They (the co-pilot) found him slumped over in the seat, in the pilot seat. He was the captain of the airline,” Stacey said.
Miroslav Gronych has been charged with the following:
- Having care and control of an aircraft while impaired
- Having care and control of an aircraft while having a blood alcohol level over .08 (or exceeding 80 mgs of alcohol per 100mL of blood)
“It had all the potential for a disaster but I’ll tell you this much, the likelihood of a pilot on a major airline like this actually being able to take off when they’re impaired like that is pretty slim because there’s a lot of checks and balances. There’s the other flight crew, there’s the gate crew, everybody is about safety. So in this case it’s all on that pilot,” Sgt. Stacey said.
Sunwing Airlines confirmed the pilot’s scheduled flight assignment as Sunwing flight 595.
The gate agents, first officer and crew “determined that the Captain was unfit to fly and reported this accordingly,” Sunwing Airlines said in a statement.
“We are very appreciative of our crew’s diligence in handling this very unfortunate matter in accordance with procedures. We were able to secure a new captain and are pleased to report that our customers are now en route to their destination after experiencing a minimal delay. We are very apologetic for any upset that this has caused and would like to assure our customers that safety remains our utmost priority,” Jacqueline Grossman, from Sunwing, stated.
Sunwing said the flight incurred a one hour and 53 minute delay before leaving Calgary at 8:53 a.m. local time, destined for Cancun via Regina.
“Transport Canada has been notified and they’re conducting their own investigation with civil aviation. My understanding is, there’s potential for a number of other charges within their jurisdiction,” Stacey said. “We’re always talking about impaired driving with motor vehicles, this is a new one and obviously this one had a very significant potential to cause great harm had the pilot actually been allowed to fly this plane.”
Phyl Durdey, CEO at Flightline Training Services in Canada, said he was shocked to hear how drunk the pilot allegedly was arriving for his shift.
“It was amazing to see that this was still going on in this industry. So it took me by a bit of surprise and being over the limit that he was, I’m surprised he even got in the cockpit,” Durdey said. “The rules in place are that it’s eight hours from bottle to throttle, those are Transport Canada regulations, but there’s also a stipulation in there that says you cannot operate an aircraft if you’re under any influence of drugs or alcohol.”
Sunwing Airlines has gone even further on the side of safety and instituted a 12-hour bottle to throttle rule.
According to Canadian Aviation Regulations, no person “shall act as a crew member of an aircraft within eight hours after consuming an alcoholic beverage; while under the influence of alcohol; or while using any drug that impairs the person’s faculties to the extent that the safety of the aircraft or of persons on board the aircraft is endangered in any way.”
Gronych is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 5, 2017.
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