In March, United Express pilot Aaron Jason Cope was indicted for flying drunk. He's now been convicted of the charge, and court records on view below show how close he came to guiding a second plane while sozzled.
According to the U.S. District Court findings of fact, Cope served as co-pilot and first officer alongside captain Robert Obodzinski on a United Express flight from Austin to Denver in December 2009. Cope had begged off a dinner the night before, saying he wasn't feeling well -- so Obodzinski chalked up his puffy face and red eyes the following morning to a cold. However, he couldn't help noticing the scent of alcohol emanating from Cope en route to Colorado.
Upon their arrival in Denver, Obodzinski took a big whiff of his co-pilot's breath, and what he smelled alarmed him enough to request that Cope's next flight, on which he was scheduled to actually fly the plane, be delayed prior to a Breathalyzer test. Cope then disappeared for the next few minutes, during which time he allegedly gulped down water from a drinking fountain in an apparent attempt to sway the test results.
Doing so didn't help enough for Cope to pass. The pilot, who told Obodzinski that he'd had a couple of beers the previous night, and had also accompanied a friend to a bar and bought brewskis at a gas station, blew a .094 the first time around, followed by a .084. Those are marginal readings for an automobile driver, but the FAA's blood-alcohol-content standard is a tougher .04 -- and Republic Airways, which oversaw the United Express flight, considers a .02 reading grounds for firing.
This evidence was more than enough for U.S. District Court judge John Tunheim, who handed down a guilty verdict. Cope could be sentenced to as many as fifteen years in prison.
That's a high price to pay for a case of the brown bottle flu. See the court documents below.
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