Passed-out pilot in Canada pleads guilty to being impaired

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — A pilot who passed out in a cockpit before a scheduled flight in Canada pleaded guilty on Tuesday to being impaired while in control of an aircraft.

Miroslav Gronych was employed by Sunwing Airlines on a work visa from Slovakia. His flight was to leave Calgary, Alberta, on Dec. 31 with stops in Regina, Saskatchewan, and Winnipeg, Manitoba, before continuing to Cancun, Mexico.

Gronych was found slumped over in his seat and escorted off the plane.

“I can’t even describe how ashamed I am,” he told court. “My kids will be punished for my mistakes.”

A statement of facts agreed to by the prosecution and defense and read in court said police saw his pilot’s wings were attached upside down on his uniform and a maid discovered an empty bottle of vodka in his hotel room. It also said he was an hour late for check-in and that he explained his tardiness by saying he had become lost going through security

Gronych struggled to hang up his coat when he got on the plane, was slurring his words and was staggering, according to the statement, and passengers on the plane were told the pilot had suddenly become ill and needed to leave, but some had already seen him and suspected he was drunk.

The prosecution asked the judge for a one-year sentence and pointed to a similar case in the United States where the pilot received five years.

“Mr. Gronych put the lives of 105 people at risk,” prosecutor Rose Greenwood said. “Hopefully he will never be permitted to fly again.”

Defense lawyer Susan Karpa said that Gronych, who lost his job, has been in treatment while out on bail, has abstained from alcohol and wants to refrain from drinking for the rest of his life.

“He wants his children to be proud of him,” Karpa said. “He wants to do everything he can to conquer his addiction.”

She said Gronych is the sole breadwinner for his family, including for his elderly parents, and is living off his savings.

Gronych was taken into custody while the judge mulls over his sentence. He is due back in court April 3.

Members of a flight crew are prohibited under Canadian aviation regulations from working within eight hours of consuming alcohol or while under the influence of alcohol.

Sunwing, a low-cost Canadian carrier, has said it has a zero-tolerance policy on crew members consuming alcohol within 12 hours of going on duty. It said it also trains all employees to report any unusual behavior.

After Gronych was charged, the Canadian Federal Pilots Association said Transport Canada should be responsible for checking the credentials of foreign pilots instead of leaving it to air operators.

 

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