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Canada Drunk Sunwing Airlines pilot sentenced to eight months in jail

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

An airline pilot who was so drunk he appeared to pass out in the cockpit before takeoff has been sentenced to eight months in jail, a penalty the judge said should deter pilots around the world from showing up to work impaired.

Miroslav Gronych, 37, pleaded guilty last month to having care and control of an aircraft while he had a blood alcohol level that was three times the legal limit.

Judge Anne Brown banned him from flying for one year after his release and took into account time Gronych has already spent in custody, reducing his sentence to slightly more than seven months.

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Gronych, a Slovakian national who was in Canada on a work visa, will also have to pay a $100 victim fine surcharge.

"He has abstained since his offence and, now realizing the devastation caused by his addiction, has committed to abstain for life," said Brown.

"Mr. Gronych's offence has been the subject of widespread international publicity. He has been thoroughly shamed, especially in Canada, where he has been working, and at home in Slovakia."

Gronych was escorted off a Sunwing Airlines plane in Calgary on Dec. 31 that was supposed to fly to Regina and Winnipeg before continuing to Cancun, Mexico. Court heard that when Gronych got on the plane, he struggled to hang up his coat, was slurring his words and staggering.

The court was also told the co-pilot suggested Gronych leave the plane, but he eventually returned to the cockpit, sat down and appeared to pass out with his face resting on the window.

When he was met by police, officers saw Gronych's wings pin was fastened upside down and an empty 26-ounce bottle of vodka was found in his room at an airport hotel, the court heard.

The defence had asked for a three- to six-month sentence while the Crown asked the judge to give Gronych one year in jail.

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The court heard that Gronych, who is married and has two young children, has lost his job.

Gronych addressed the court at his sentencing hearing last month, tearfully recounting how becoming a pilot was a childhood dream.

"I can't even describe how ashamed I am," he said in a soft voice.

He said the case, which made headlines around the world, has taken a toll on his family.

"My kids will be punished for my mistakes," he said.

In handing down the sentence, Brown said it is likely Gronych will never work again as a pilot.

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"The essential issue in this case, then, is the appropriate sentence to send a message of denunciation and deterrence to commercial airline pilots," she said.

"This type of sentence is concerned about community standards and harm brought on the community by breaching the trust that a pilot has with the community."

Gronych's steps toward rehabilitation and the high level of public scrutiny the case attracted globally were mitigating factors, Brown said, noting also that Gronych never touched the controls of the aircraft.

Defence lawyer Susan Karpa declined to comment after the hearing.

Crown prosecutor Rosalind Greenwood said she is happy with the sentence.

"It is a clear message to pilots that if you drink alcohol and you fly a plane, you're going to be met with a period of incarceration," she said.

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Members of a flight crew are prohibited under Canadian aviation regulations from working within eight hours of consuming alcohol or while under the influence of alcohol.

Sunwing has said it has a zero tolerance policy on crew members consuming alcohol within 12 hours of going on duty.

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