A pilot who turned up so drunk at Heathrow that he didn’t know where he was supposed to fly his transatlantic passenger plane has been jailed for six months. George La Perle was stopped by security officers because he was reeking of alcohol, Isleworth Crown Court was told. He told them he had just had a few beers the previous evening and that he was scheduled to fly to New York. His destination was in fact Detroit.
The 49-year-old was found to have four and a half times the legal amount of alcohol for pilots in his blood. He also exceeded the less strict limits for driving a car. First Officer Le Perle, of Delta Airlines, who has 20 years flying experience, was due to be one of three pilots in the cockpit of the Boeing 767, with 240 passengers on board, the court was told. Heidi Stonecliffe, prosecuting, said security staff stopped La Perle at around 8.30am on November 1 last year. There could have been ‘potentially disastrous consequences’, she added.
Flying regulations allow pilots a maximum of 20 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood – La Perle was found to have 89. It was later discovered that La Perle, from Boston, U.S., was an alcoholic. He pleaded guilty to performing an aviation function with excess alcohol. Defence counsel Neil Fitzgibbon said La Perle felt deep remorse.
Jailing him on Friday, Judge Phillip Matthews said: ‘You knew that you were about to co-pilot a Boeing 767 across the Atlantic with all that entails, yet you had consumed alcohol which, at the time that you arrived at Heathrow Airport, was showing that you were four times over the prescribed aviation limit. The consequences for the passengers on that plane, if you had piloted for any stage of that journey, which was a distinct possibility bearing in mind that is what you were employed to do, were potentially catastrophic.’