Drunken pilot imprisoned for erratic flight

/ Source: The Associated Press

A drunken pilot who buzzed his single-engine plane near a nuclear power plant and crossed the flight paths of six airliners was sentenced to six to 23 months in prison.

John V. Salamone had a blood alcohol level of 0.15 percent when he landed after an erratic, four-hour flight on Jan. 15 over the Philadelphia region, authorities said. The legal limit for drivers in Pennsylvania is 0.08 percent.

But Pennsylvania doesn’t have laws concerning drunken flying, and drunken driving charges against Salamone were thrown out. Instead, Salamone was convicted of risking a catastrophe and reckless endangerment.

Salamone, 44, of Pottstown, must also serve five years probation and undergo alcohol counseling, a Montgomery County judge ordered Tuesday.

After the case garnered attention, lawmakers tried to rectify the legal loophole by passing a bill — now awaiting the governor’s signature — that makes flying drunk over the state a crime.

The federal legal limit for pilots, set by the Federal Aviation Administration, is 0.04 percent, but the FAA doesn’t have the authority to prosecute drunken pilots in criminal court.

Salamone, flying a single-engine Piper Cherokee, meandered into New Jersey and flew into forbidden airspace. He flew as low as 100 feet and within a quarter mile of the Limerick nuclear power plant, officials said. Although the military was consulted, it did not send fighters to intervene.

A Philadelphia police helicopter helped force the plane down. Officials acknowledged at the time there was little they could do to bring the plane down — short of shooting at it — after the North American Aerospace Defense Command concluded it was not a terrorist threat.