Drunk pilot detained minutes before take-off jailed

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A Japanese pilot who was preparing to take off from Heathrow Airport while about 10 times over the alcohol limit has been jailed.

First officer Katsutoshi Jitsukawa, 42, was arrested at the airport after failing a breath test 50 minutes before the Japan Airlines (JAL) flight was due to take off with him in the cockpit.

The co-pilot was caught after security noticed he smelled strongly of alcohol, seemed drunk and had “glazed eyes”, while an officer later noticed he had “difficulty standing straight”.

As he was jailed for 10 months at Isleworth Crown Court on Thursday, Judge Phillip Matthews said Jitsukawa was clearly “very intoxicated” prior to the 7pm take-off and had been drinking that day.

“You are an experienced pilot but you had clearly been drinking for a long period up to a time shortly before you were due to go into that plane,” the judge said.

“Most important is the safety of all persons on board that very long-haul flight, potentially 12 hours or more, their safety was put at risk by your inebriation and drunkenness.

“The prospect of you taking over control of that aircraft is too appalling to contemplate. The potential consequences for those on board was catastrophic.”

Prosecutor Douglas Adams said Jitsukawa was challenged by security staff on the plane after colleagues had noticed alcohol radiating from his breath and believed he was “drunk”.

After he was challenged, he said he had drank whisky the night before but had already passed a breathalyser test.

But he said he needed to grab his blazer from the plane.

Katsutoshi Jitsukawa
Katsutoshi Jitsukawa was jailed for 10 months at Isleworth Crown Court (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The pilot was removed from the flight deck of the JL44 to Tokyo on October 28 and some 40 minutes later police arrived to find him “swinging” and struggling to stand straight, the court heard.

A preliminary breath test found him to be more than 10 times the limit with 93mg of alcohol in 100ml of breath, while the legal flying limit is 9mg.

The drink-drive limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 35mg.

He was also found to be more than nine times over the limit in a later blood test.

Jitsukawa, who was clean-shaven and in a grey tracksuit as he appeared on a videolink from Wandsworth prison, kept his eyes closed through much of the hearing.

Bill Emlyn Jones, mitigating, said the sole carer of three young children had dreamed of being a pilot since he was a boy – but the realities of long-haul travel had destroyed this.

“He said he became unhappy, suffered with sleeplessness, started feeling depressed. It would seem he used alcohol as a means of self-medication,” the lawyer said.

The pilot feels an “abject disgrace” and wishes to apologise to the airline, passengers and his family “for the shame he had brought upon them”, the lawyer added.

But, he added, his client had consumed a “very considerable excess” the night before and was unable to say when he had stopped.

The plane, a Boeing 777 holding up to 244 passengers, departed after a 69-minute delay.

The judge suggested Jitsukawa, who has since lost his job, put colleagues in the position of performing a “cover up” or reporting him to superiors.

Outside court, JAL deputy general manager in London Yasuhiro Kikuchi denied colleagues acted improperly, and added: “As an organisation we are going to work together to prevent this happening again.”

Following Jitsukawa’s arrest, JAL pledged to introduce a new breathalyser system at overseas airports.

Jitsukawa, of no fixed abode, admitted one count of performing an aviation function when his ability was impaired through alcohol.

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