Image: Fulton
Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office
Southwest Airlines co-pilot Carl Fulton is seen after his July 9 arrest in a booking photo provided by the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.
updated 7/10/2006 10:46:00 PM ET 2006-07-11T02:46:00

A Southwest Airlines co-pilot accused of being intoxicated minutes before takeoff was charged in federal court here Monday.

Prosecutors charged Carl Fulton, 41, of Fort Worth, Texas, with one count of operation of a common carrier under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

Fulton did not enter a plea. A preliminary hearing is set for July 28.

A Transportation Security Administration screener reported smelling alcohol on Fulton’s breath Sunday morning at a security checkpoint. That was about 30 minutes before Southwest Flight 136, on which Fulton was the first officer, was set to depart from Salt Lake City International Airport for Phoenix.

Fulton was removed from the plane’s cockpit and arrested. He spent the night in the Salt Lake County Jail.

Court documents say Fulton told federal air marshals and police he had consumed two “large beers” at a local movie house and a third drink — vodka — at a bar in the hotel where he was staying. He said he stopped drinking at 10 p.m. Saturday.

A breathalyzer test given to Fulton an hour after he was taken off the plane showed his blood-alcohol level was .039 percent; a second test registered .038 percent, according to court records. The results were “mathematically not possible” if he had consumed only three drinks a day earlier, an air marshal said in a court document.

Federal Aviation Administration guidelines say a pilot is prohibited from flying within eight hours of consuming alcohol. The agency bars pilots from flying if their blood-alcohol level is .020 percent or greater.

Southwest has placed Fulton on paid leave — which prohibits him from flying — pending the outcome of an internal investigation. He had a “perfectly clear record” and has worked for the airline for two years, company spokesman Ed Stewart said.

Fulton’s attorney, Ken Brown, declined to comment Monday.

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