‘Ottawa’ ‘That’s why we’re Sitting? Because we have a drunk pilot?’: Passengers Speak Out After Sunwing Pilot Removed From Flight
It was a rough end to the holiday season for some Sunwing travellers, after the intoxicated pilot of a flight from Calgary to Mexico was found unconscious in the cockpit with a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit.
On Saturday, police said the captain of Sunwing Airlines flight WG595 headed to Cancun was removed from the plane after his co-pilot found him unconscious in the cockpit.
The flight had 99 passengers and several crew members on board and the incident delayed departure for several hours.
Norm Mack was visiting Mexico with his wife and two daughters for the holidays and had booked a Sunwing flight to return home to Saskatchewan. Mack said their return flight was delayed for more than three hours and was upset because the pilot had “one too many tequilas.”
“I don’t want to sensationalize it or anything like that, but I guess when you’re on holidays with family over the holiday season you trust the airline that you’re flying with to look after you,” Mack said.
Mack said passengers were not notified by Sunwing Airlines about the reason for the delay, adding it wasn’t until the third hour of the delay that passengers were shocked to see posts on social media about the pilot being removed from their airplane.
“We were on Flight 596 coming back on the same plane in Cancun and then everybody figured it out,” Mack said. “That’s why we’re sitting? Because we have a drunk pilot?”
“There’s delays every day in the airline industry but nothing was said to any of the passengers. Everybody was wondering what was going on, but when it came to light of what the delay was, that’s when the mood changed for everybody.”
Mack said the group of travellers waiting in Cancun for their plane were visibly frustrated, but remained mostly calm. Even though Mack said he will “think twice” about using Sunwing Airlines in the future, he is grateful the flight crew were able to recognize the pilot was impaired and remove him from the flight.
“In retrospect, thanks probably should have been given to the crew that was on that plane … in the same token I think whether they deserve it or not, Sunwing’s integrity sort of crashed yesterday.”
Sue Walker said her son Jared and his wife Amanda had also been aboard the plane headed for Cancun, and that passengers onboard had been told by Sunwing that the pilot had the flu. But sitting in the fourth row on the flight, Jared said they saw cops heading on board and “heard something about impairment.”
Jared said the most terrifying part of the ordeal was when the plane had to abort landing in Regina due to inclement weather, landing successfully on the second go around.
“What appalls me is if he got away with it and boarded and then attempted that landing, it would have been disastrous,” Sue said. “They were pretty scared on the plane.”
Booking a last minute trip Friday, Sue said her daughter-in-law suffers from cancer. Since she had been feeling better in between chemotherapy treatments, the couple decided to take a vacation and relax down in Cancun.
“It’s definitely not the way you want to start off your holiday,” Sue said. “Personally, I think that pilot should be charged with 105 attempted murders.”
Flight WG595 was headed to Cancun with flight legs scheduled to Regina and Winnipeg. Police said the gate and flight crews noticed tie pilot was “behaving oddly” before being found slumped over in the cockpit.
Miroslav Gronych, a 37-year-old Slovakian national in Canada on a work visa, was charged Saturday by Calgary police with having care and control of an aircraft while impaired and having care and control of an aircraft while having over .08 blood-alcohol level.
Transport Canada spokesman Dan Dugas said in an e-mail it is a criminal offence in Canada for a flight crew to work within eight hours of consuming alcohol or while under the influence.
Dugas said Transport Canada is reviewing the pilot’s records and Sunwing Airlines’ procedures and protocols.
In a statement, Sunwing Airlines said a new pilot was arranged for the flight and despite delays, the 99 passengers aboard flight WG595 were on route to their destinations around 2 p.m. on Saturday.
“We are very apologetic for any upset that this has caused and would like to assure our customers that safety remains our utmost priority,” the airline said in the statement.