BEMIDJI – A SkyWest Airlines co-pilot and flight attendant have been suspended without pay after police discovered alcohol in their system before their flight was scheduled to leave Bemidji for Minneapolis Thursday morning.
Police were called to Bemidji Regional Airport at 5:19 a.m. Thursday after Hampton Inn and Suites employees contacted the airport and said the flight staff had been drinking there and that they could smell alcohol on them, according to a police incident report. Airport employees could smell alcohol on the flight staff as well, according to the police report.
All three submitted to a breathalyzer test at the airport.
The flight captain had no alcohol in his system, according to the police report. The co-pilot had .035 percent blood-alcohol content level and the flight attendant had .025.
It is illegal to operate an aircraft in Minnesota if the person’s BAC is .04 or higher during operation or within two hours of attempted operation, according to state statute. It is also illegal to operate an aircraft within eight hours of consuming alcohol.
No member of the flight staff was arrested, but the report was forwarded to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Marissa Snow, a SkyWest spokeswoman, said an unrelated mechanical issue delayed the flight until later Thursday. She said a new co-pilot was flown in for the flight.
“SkyWest has zero tolerance for violation of safety protocol,” she said of the suspensions. “Without question the first priority is the safety of our passengers and our crew members.”
The jet can hold 50 passengers, although it's unclear how many people were scheduled to be on the flight.
Snow said the company, headquartered in Utah, is investigating the incident.
The co-pilot told police that he began drinking at the Hampton Inn and Suites bar at about noon Wednesday and stopped between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. that night, according to the police report. He said he only had four 12-ounce cans of beer, although he admitted it was probably more after the responding officer questioned that claim based on a sobriety test.
The attendant told police she had four glasses of wine between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday at the hotel bar.
The captain, who told police he does not drink, said he was not at the bar with the others and was not aware “when or what they were drinking,” according to the police report.