A former Alaska Airlines pilot will plead guilty and serve one year in prison for flying a plane while under the influence of alcohol. But prosecutors paint a grim picture of what could have happened.
David Hans Arntson, 62, flew over 20 years for Alaska Airlines. Prosecutors allege he struggled with alcohol addiction over those two decades and routinely piloted commercial flights under the influence of alcohol.
U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna told NBC News:
This pilot worked for the airline for more than 20 years, and we now know that he was an alcoholic who flew commercial flights while under the influence of alcohol. When he was finally caught, the evidence indicates that he had flown with an alcohol level more than three times the legal limit. Thankfully, Mr. Arntson was never involved in an accident, but his conduct could have resulted in tragic consequences. Very few people will ever hold the lives of so many people in their hands at one time.
But Dyke Huish, Arntson’s attorney, paints a different picture:
My client has a long and distinguished career as a pilot and has flown thousands of flights without incident. And he has a perfect safety record, and as any good pilot who is responsible for the lives of people, he is willing to take responsibility and accept the consequences for his mistake.
Arnston was subject to a random drug and alcohol check on June 20, 2014. He had flown from San Diego to Portland to Santa Ana earlier that day. The test revealed a blood alcohol reading (BAC) of 0.142, more than three time the federal legal limit of 0.04 for airline pilots.
Arnston questioned the breathalyzer test, but a blood test revealed identical results. He claimed he “consumed only a few sips of beer during dinner” and dismissed that he had a problem.
A few things to consider. First, we know that many pilots get away with flying after consuming alcohol. Second, we should be thankful that having a high BAC does not necessarily mean the pilot was drunk. Perhaps he had a high tolerance for alcohol after years of abuse and felt not even a buzz. Make no mistake, I am not defending this pilot in any way. But I am saying he was not necessarily intoxicated. In any case, I’m glad he is out of the skies and I trust other pilots will reconsider their drinking habits. As the prosecutor aptly stated, “Very few people will ever hold the lives of so many people in their hands at one time.”