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Passed-out pilot drank bottle of vodka before Canadian flight

A pilot who passed out in a cockpit before a scheduled flight in Canada has pleaded guilty to being impaired while in control of an aircraft.

The flight piloted by Miroslav Gronych, who was employed by low-cost carrier Sunwing Airlines on a work visa from Slovakia, was to leave Calgary, Alberta, on December 31, with stops in Regina, Saskatchewan, and Winnipeg, Manitoba, before continuing to Cancun, Mexico.

But before the flight, Gronych, 37, was found slumped over in his seat and escorted off the plane.

He was found to be three times above the legal blood alcohol limit.

"I can't even describe how ashamed I am," he told the court in Calgary.

"My kids will be punished for my mistakes."

A statement of facts agreed by the prosecution and defence 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.

When Gronych boarded the plane at around 7am, the court was told, he struggled to hang up his coat, was slurring his words and staggering.

When the co-pilot suggested Gronych was impaired and should leave the plane, "he seemed very nonchalant and said, 'OK, if that's what you feel'."

But Gronych returned to the cockpit, sat in the pilot's chair and appeared to pass out "resting his face on the window", the statement said.

He was asked to leave the plane again and was held by gate agents until police arrived.

The statement said passengers on the plane were told the pilot had suddenly become ill, but some had already seen him and suspected he was drunk.

When police arrived, they found his pilot's wings were pinned upside down, smelled alcohol on his breath and noticed he could not stand up straight.

Defence lawyer Susan Karpa told the court Gronych could not sleep the night before his flight and felt like he was coming down with a cold.

He took a couple of shots of vodka and a Tylenol pain relief tablet and planned to wake up in time to let people know he would not make the flight.

He did not set an alarm and was awakened by a call asking him where he was, Ms Karpa said. He drank the rest of the bottle of vodka and left for the flight.

She said he did not know why he drank the vodka, but only that his willpower failed.

The defence asked for a three to six-month jail sentence while the prosecution asked the judge for a year's term.

Prosecutor Rose Greenwood 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," she said. "Hopefully he will never be permitted to fly again."

Ms Karpa said Gronych had been in treatment while on bail and had abstained from alcohol.

"He wants his children to be proud of him," she said. "He wants to do everything he can to conquer his addiction."

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

A statement from Gronych's wife read out in court said her husband did not drink all the time, but when he did, it was in large quantities.

Gronych tearfully told the court becoming a pilot was a childhood dream.

He was remanded in custody while the judge considers his sentence. He is due back in court on April 3.

Sunwing spokeswoman Jacqueline Grossman said Gronych, a contractor, was sacked by his employer, Travel Service, shortly after he was found drunk.

She declined to comment on the case but said Sunwing had formed a committee that included management and union members to review and update protocols.

Members of a flight crew are banned under Canadian aviation laws from working within eight hours of having alcohol or while under its influence.

Sunwing has said it has a zero-tolerance policy on crew members consuming alcohol within 12 hours of going on duty and trains all employees to report any unusual behaviour.

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.

:: Vietnam's aviation authority has suspended three air traffic controllers, including one who fell asleep while on duty, for causing delays to two flights.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam said it had recommended that the sleeping controller and one other controller also be fined.

The online Dan Tri newspaper said the crews on two flights - one departing and one arriving - could not contact the air traffic control at Cat Bi airport in northern city of Hai Phong for 33 minutes on March 9.

The newspaper said one controller was absent while the main air traffic controller was sleeping. A technician was also suspended.

The flights were eventually able to depart and land successfully.

AP

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