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Federal prosecutors in California have charged a former Alaska Airlines pilot with flying a plane from Oregon to California while under the influence of alcohol.
David Arntson, 60, of Newport Beach, California, was arrested Wednesday and charged on a felony count of operating a common carrier while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Arntson piloted two flights on June 20, 2014, the first from San Diego to Portland and a second from Portland to John Wayne Airport in Orange County.
After landing in California, he was subjected to a random drug test that registered a blood alcohol level of between 0.134 percent and 0.142 percent, prosecutors charge. A BAC of 0.08 percent is enough to get someone busted for DUI while driving on the ground.
"Those in command of passenger jets, or any other form of public transportation, have an obligation to serve the public in the safest and most responsible way possible," U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said in a statement announcing the charge.
"We cannot and will not tolerate those who violate the trust of their passengers by endangering lives," she said.
Arnston, a pilot hired by Jet America in 1982 and flew with Alaska Airlines after Jet America was acquired by the company, denied drinking any alcohol, the criminal complaint said.
He was removed from "safety-sensitive duties" the day of the positive test and later retired, according to the complaint.
A call to what appeared in public records to be Arntson's phone number was not immediately returned Thursday.
Arntson’s co-pilot on the flight recalled to investigators in June 2015 that upon seeing the drug tester at the gate Arntson allegedly said "I bet that’s for me," but the context of the statement isn’t clear in the criminal complaint.
The co-pilot said Arntson may have left the cockpit during the flight to stretch his legs but wasn’t sure, and wasn’t certain whether Arntson had any beverage during the flight, according to the complaint.
Crew members also said they didn’t see him drink any alcohol during the flight, and didn’t smell alcohol on his breath, the criminal complaint said.
After the initial test, Arntson told investigators he tried to get a blood test but was told he needed a prescription, and when he finally got one the next morning the result was negative, according to the complaint.
Investigators said in the report he wasn’t taking any medication that could have influenced the first test.
Alaska Airlines spokesman Bobbie Egan said Thursday that Arntson had never before failed a random drug test, and that he never flew after the June 20, 2014, test.
Arntson is free on $25,000 bail, prosecutors said. The charge carries up to 15 years in federal prison.