NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A pilot was arrested Friday, accused of being under the influence of alcohol when he was about to fly a plane to LaGuardia Airport. Police said they stopped him, just in the nick of time.
Police found 48-year-old pilot Kolbjorn Jarle Kristiansen in the cockpit doing pre-flight checks just before 6 a.m., CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
He was reported to authorities by workers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport who smelled alcohol on his breath.
Kristiansen agreed to take a Breathalyzer — and failed. His blood-alcohol content was higher than the Federal Aviation Administration limit of .04 percent.
“I suppose it’s reassuring in a way that they know if things like this happen, but it’s terrible he was doing that,” traveler Tristan Garcia told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider.
Aviation attorney and pilot Brian Alexander told Aiello alcohol and aviation are a terrible mix.
“You have to understand it will slow your reaction time, it will in fact affect your judgment. You have to take that into consideration and be at the top of your game,” Alexander said. “It’s a rare event but it does happen. Pilots are human and they do err from time to time.”
After Kristiansen was yanked from the cockpit, American Airlines Flight 4590 to LaGuardia was delayed several hours before making the trip to New York City.
One passenger arriving from Minneapolis said he immediately thought of “Flight,” a recent movie starring Denzel Washington as a substance abusing pilot.
“Had me a little bit upset and nervous, you know, but our flight was fine,” Bert Cambridge said.
Linda Singh of Stamford, Conn., said the accusation of being under the influence that early in the morning was also disturbing.
“I’m glad I wasn’t on that flight! That’s crazy. That’s ridiculous,” Singh said.
A spokesman for the airline promised full cooperation with police, and also said there would be a full internal investigation.
“American Eagle has a well-established substance abuse policy that is designed to put the safety of our customers and employees first. The pilot will be withheld from service pending the outcome of the investigation,” spokesman Matt Miller said.
“I pray for that guy, hope he gets better and stays off planes,” Manhattan resident Charles Carlini added.
Kristiansen was removed from the cockpit because someone smelled something — and said something.
The pilot is part of a crew based at LaGuardia. His residence is in Raleigh, N.C. He obtained an FAA commercial pilot’s license just two years ago.
Formal charges against Kristiansen are pending.
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