UPDATED: The co-pilot of an airBaltic flight testified in a Norwegian court on Monday that he was glad police stopped the entire flight crew before they were about to fly more than 100 passengers from Oslo to Crete earlier this month. He claimed they “lost control” over how much alcohol they drank the night before the early morning flight, resulting in four out of five crew members testing positive for high blood alcohol levels.
The co-pilot’s was the highest of all, at 1.35, and he was ultimately sentenced to six months in prison on Monday. He admitted that he couldn’t remember when he stopped drinking. “But police have a picture of me from the bar when I bought a drink,” the co-pilot said, reportedly taken just four hours before the airBaltic flight was scheduled to depart at 5:45am.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported from the courthouse in Lillestrøm Monday that the co-pilot admitted he was under the influence of alcohol but thought at the time he was stopped in a police alcohol control at the airport that he was just tired after having slept too little.
The 38-year-old co-pilot from Latvia described long and hard working days at the airline, with lots of travel and little sleep. “The early morning flights can therefore be difficult, you’re not quite sure whether you’ve slept,” he said. “It’s very good that the police stopped us.”
He testitifed that he believed the crew shared two bottles of whisky, but admitted he had trouble remembering all the details from the evening. “We drank outside the hotel, but we agreed to stop drinking at 8pm,” he testified. “After that I only drank beer.”
He said the drinking began around 3pm outside the hotel where the crew was spending the night. “We were just going to chat for awhile, but at some point, we lost control over how much we drank,” he said with the help of an interpreter. “It all ended as you know.”
He and the 50-year-old captain were on trial in one courtroom, while two of the three flight attendants were on trial in a neighbouring courtroom. Only one flight attendant of the five-member crew tested negative when confronted with breathalyzer tests as they were boarding the flight at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen. All four on trial were immediately suspended by airBaltic and then given notice of dismissal. Prosecutors claimed they would have put the lives of the flight’s passengers in danger.
The captain faces the most serious charges, expanded on Friday, because he was responsible for the entire crew. He ended up having his trial postponed until September 17 and agreed to stay in custody until then.
Defense attorney Jørund Lægland told NRK that the co-pilot, meanwhile, wanted to “lay all his cards on the table” and therefore was making a full confession in the hopes that would lead to a lighter prison term. “He wants to get this over with and get a verdict,” Lægland said.
Prosecutors asked that he be sentenced to seven months in jail, down from the nine months sought by police, because of his confession. Lægland thinks three to four months in prison would be sufficient, while the judge settled on a six-month sentence. Newspaper VG reported later that one of the flight attendants received a jail term of 45 days and the other 60 days.