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Delta pilot found drunk before transatlantic flight sentenced to 10 months prison

Delta planes line up at their gates while on the tarmac of Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah September 28, 2013.
Lucas Jackson/Reuters via CNN Newsource
Delta planes line up at their gates while on the tarmac of Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah September 28, 2013.

By Jennifer Hauser and Lauren Kent, CNN

London (CNN) — A Delta Airlines pilot was sentenced to 10 months in prison for reporting for duty at Scotland’s Edinburgh Airport while drunk, according to a court statement.

The pilot, 63-year-old American citizen Lawrence Russell Jr., was due to captain a flight from Edinburgh to New York’s JFK airport on the morning of June 16, 2023, but his blood alcohol test exceeded the legal limit. He had two bottles of Jägermeister liqueur in his bag when he came to work, one of which was half full, the court said Tuesday.

The transatlantic flight had to be canceled and Russell lost his job at Delta, according to the court statement from the Judiciary of Scotland.

A Delta spokesperson said: “Delta was aware of this incident and removed the pilot from service while conducting a thorough investigation in coordination with Scottish authorities.” At the time, Delta also apologized to the travelers affected.

In the court sentencing, Sheriff (Judge) Alison Stirling told Russell: “Your bag was found to contain two bottles of Jägermeister, one of which was open and was just under half full. Because you were wearing a pilot’s uniform, police were contacted. Officers arrived shortly thereafter. You gave your details to the police, and told them you were a captain with Delta Airlines.”

When asked about the open bottle, the pilot said he had been drinking the night before, but he failed a breath test the morning he came to work. He was arrested and later gave a blood sample, which also exceeded the limit.

The legal limit in Scotland is 20 milligrams to pilot a plane, while the limit for driving a car is 50 milligrams, according to the court. In the United States, the limit for a pilot is 0.04 blood alcohol concentration. US federal regulations prohibit anyone from acting as a crewmember on a civil flight within eight hours of consuming alcohol or while under the influence of alcohol.

The court said Russell was a recovering alcoholic who successfully completed a treatment program after the incident, and he is now in remission.

He had two previous instances of driving under the influence, according to the court, which also noted he had no previous convictions in Britain.

The Boeing-767 captain pled guilty to charges “at the earliest opportunity” on March 5, which played a role in reducing his sentence from 15 months to 10 months, the court said.

The sheriff added that the prison sentence was appropriate, given the “serious nature” of the offense, saying: “Your offence showed a high level of culpability and a high potential for serious harm to have been done.”

The court statement said Russell’s own account of the incident showed he was “remorseful for the inconvenience” the flight cancellation caused to his employer and the passengers.

Russell’s defense attorney, Pamela Rodgers, told CNN she could not offer further comment on the sentencing due to confidentiality.

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