NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A commercial pilot was under the influence of alcohol while flying a JetBlue airliner carrying 151 passengers last year from Orlando to New York City, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Dennis Murphy Jr. was selected for a random alcohol test on April 21, 2015 after Flight 584 landed at John F. Kennedy International airport from Orlando, according to a federal complaint made public on Wednesday.
WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported Murphy’s blood-alcohol level was 0.11, exceeding the legal limit for pilots or for anyone driving a car. When he was tested again 15 minutes later, Murphy blew a .091, court papers said.
Murphy tried to tell the person administering the test that the results “must have been caused by the gum that he was chewing,” the complaint said.
CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported Murphy was arraigned in federal court after being arrested at his New Jersey home Wednesday morning. He was released on $50,000 bond.
When he exited the federal courthouse in downtown Brooklyn with his wife, Murphy switched clothes with his father to try to throw the media off, Gainer reported.
He said “no comment” when Gainer asked him whether he was drinking on the plane, where he was working right now, or whether he had anything to say to the passengers.
On the day in question, Murphy piloted a flight to Orlando with 119 passengers onboard, and later flew back to New York with 151 passengers. His co-pilot said he saw Murphy “drinking an unknown beverage from a cup” before one flight and during both, according to the complaint.
Murphy, who was hired by the airline in January 2015, resigned from JetBlue before a disciplinary hearing last May, according to the complaint.
JetBlue said it has a “zero tolerance” drug and alcohol policy and confirmed Murphy no longer works there.
Murphy is facing 15 years in jail.
Passengers at JFK on Wednesday, were disturbed by the allegations against Murphy.
“That’s crazy. That’s insane,” one woman said.
“Very reckless and irresponsible,” another passenger added.
JetBlue said it has a “zero tolerance” drug and alcohol policy, and confirmed that Murphy no longer works for the airline since resigning.
Aviation Attorney and pilot Daniel Rose said the problem is likely far worse than people realize.
“Pilots are ingrained to know that they should not mix alcohol and flying at all,” Rose said, “For everybody that gets caught there are obviously others that are getting by.”
The case follows that of an Alaska Airlines captain who is scheduled to go on trial in July on federal felony charges that while drunk he flew a plane full of passengers from Portland, Oregon, to Orange County, California. And In March, an American Airlines co-pilot was arrested when he failed a sobriety test before a flight in Detroit.
Under federal law, airlines can test pilots for alcohol and drug use at random. They also can be tested after an accident or when impairment is suspected.
According to records from the Federal Aviation Administration, 225 pilots for commercial airlines have tested above the legal blood-alcohol limit since 1995.
In 2015, there were 56,327 tests given to workers in the airline industry including pilots, mechanics, flight attendants and air traffic controllers. Of those, 119 people tested above the limit — or 0.2 percent — the FAA said. Also, aviation workers failed 1,546 of 218,448 drug tests.
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