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Calgary police charge pilot allegedly impaired, passed out in cockpit

In this file photo taken in 2009, a Boeing 737 (737-800) jetliner belonging to Sunwing Airlines takes off from Calgary, Alberta.

LARRY MACDOUGAL/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A Sunwing Airlines pilot faces charges after police allege he was impaired before takeoff.

Police say the pilot boarded the Boeing 737 in Calgary early Saturday for a flight that was scheduled to make stops in Regina and Winnipeg before continuing on to Cancun, Mexico.

But before it took off, police say the gate crew as well as crewmembers on the aircraft indicated he was behaving strangely.

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Police allege the co-pilot found the pilot passed out in the cockpit.

"They found him slumped over in the seat. He was the captain," Sgt. Paul Stacey told a news conference.

The pilot was escorted from the plane and later charged with having care and control of an aircraft while being impaired, as well as having a blood-alcohol level exceeding .08 while in care and control of an aircraft.

Calgary Police issued a statement late Saturday night identifying the pilot as Miroslav Gronych, 37, of Slovakia.

Stacey said police allege the suspect had three times the legal amount of alcohol in his system.

Sunwing spokeswoman Janine Massey praised the rest of the crew for handling what she called a "very unfortunate matter."

"We can confirm that shortly before 7 a.m. local time, the gate agents, first officer and crew of Sunwing flight 595, departing from Calgary and destined for Cancun, determined that the captain was unfit to fly and reported this accordingly," Massey stated.

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"The captain was immediately escorted off of the aircraft and the incident is now under investigation with local authorities."

Police said there were 99 passengers on the flight and six crew. Sunwing said the plane took off a short time later with another captain.

"We are very apologetic for any upset that this has caused and would like to assure our customers that safety remains our utmost priority," Massey said.

Stacey said Transport Canada had been contacted and he expected the suspect could face additional charges.

"It had all the potential for a disaster but I'll tell you this much — the likelihood of a pilot on a major airline like this actually being able to take off when they're impaired like that is pretty slim, because there's a lot of checks and balances. There's the other flight crew and there's gate crew and they're all about safety," Stacey said.

"So, I'm not surprised that he got caught before (the plane) left the terminal."

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Transport Canada spokesman Dan Dugas said in an email that it is a criminal offence in Canada for a flight crew to work within eight hours of consuming alcohol or while under the influence.

Dugas said Transport Canada is reviewing the pilot's records and Sunwing Airlines' procedures and protocols.

"As more information becomes available, the department will not hesitate to take enforcement action, including issuing fines and revoking licenses if appropriate. The airline is responsible for taking any disciplinary action against the pilots," the email said.

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