Sarasota pilot faces prison for flying cargo plane while intoxicated

Orlando SentinelJune 15, 2013 

ORLANDO -- A pilot for an Orlando-based cargo company is facing federal prison time after authorities said he was flying drunk with a blood-alcohol level six times over the legal limit for aviators.

Philip Lavoie of Sarasota pleaded guilty to operating a plane while under the influence and could spend a maximum of 15 years in prison.

Lavoie, 28, was flying between North Carolina and Tampa for the carrier Flight Express when he lost contact with air-traffic controllers.

U.S Air Force fighter jets were scrambled to find his aircraft, according to William Daniels, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida.

Lavoie was the lone occupant of Flight 840 on the Dec. 8 trip and went silent for long periods of time, Daniels said in a statement. Controllers said Lavoie changed altitude without permission and deviated from his flight path.

Tyndall Air Force Base jets were dispatched to investigate but Lavoie eventually resumed contact with the air-traffic control tower.

After he landed, Lavoie voluntarily submitted to a field sobriety test, which he failed. A Breathalyzer revealed his blood-alcohol content was 0.272 and 0.274 percent, court documents show.

The Federal Aviation Administration's legal limit for civil pilots is 0.04 and drinking within eight hours of a flight is strongly discouraged.

Studies have shown a hangover or even trace amounts of alcohol in a pilot's system can affect their flying performance, according to agency literature.

Comparably, the legal limit for motorists in the state of Florida is 0.08.

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