CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — A JetBlue pilot is suspended and in huge trouble after he was pulled from the cockpit for being drunk.
This all unfolded Wednesday morning at the Buffalo Airport, just before takeoff, with a plane full of passengers.
52-year-old Pilot James Clifton was in the cockpit, getting ready to fly 133 passengers from Buffalo to Fort Lauderdale around 6:15 a.m. when NFTA officers pulled him from the plane.
TSA agents suspected something was off about Clifton when he was checking his gun through security just minutes earlier.
“There was some questions and some suspicion. That’s when we became involved — when the TSA officers called our officers and that’s when we got involved. We gave him a breathalyzer and we know how he did with that — he did not do well,” said Helen Tederous, director of public affairs, NFTA.
Clifton ended up blowing a .174%, more than four times the legal limit for pilots.
JetBlue ended up firing Clifton and has launched an investigation. So, has the FAA.
“He was taken into custody, but not charged,” Tederous added. “Right now, we are working with federal officials and he may face some serious charges.”
Aviation expert Bob Miller told News 4, “The pilot that was taken off JetBlue today, very likely is looking at several years of hard prison time.”
An NFTA police report said Clifton had gone out the night before to Sidelines bar on Delaware Avenue. While in the police interview room, Clifton told someone over the phone that he drank ten 22-ounce beers, also known as “Tall Boys.”
Wednesday morning, he missed the shuttle to the airport and had to take an Uber.
“A wise move, simply, would be call in sick. I’m just not able to fly today. No reason. I’m just not feeling well. That’s the safe way to do it because the risks are profound,” Miller added.
Miller said pilots who have drinking problems can face huge obstacles when trying to get help.
“It’s a real bad situation for the pilot to report to his company that he has a drinking problem. The company will help. But very likely the company has the option to put him on the ground for one full year in most cases until they are assured the pilot has resolved the problem,” Miller told us.
As for the passengers on the plane, Clifton’s arrest delayed their trip by four hours. But their bizarre journey to the Sunshine State finally came to an end when the wheels touched down in Fort Lauderdale just after 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Read the police report below:
Dave Greber is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here.