SPOKANE — A Federal Way pilot who overshot the Spokane airport by some 50 miles and later lined up on the wrong runway during approach has been convicted in federal court of flying while intoxicated.
A jury convicted 48-year-old Paul R. Roessler under the federal statute of operating a common carrier under the influence of alcohol last week, the Spokesman Review reported Tuesday.
Roessler was flying a twin-engine Piper PA-34 Seneca for Seattle-based Airpac Airlines last April when air traffic controllers could not reach him via radio as he went past his arrival time. Controllers enlisted nearby pilots to radio him, but he was not responding.
Eventually, Roessler contacted the Seattle Air Route Traffic Control Center at 8:09 p.m. and said he had accidentally shut off his communication system.
Air controllers “informed the Defendant that he has overflown Spokane by approximately 50 miles and asked if he was going to return to Spokane,” court records say. Roessler said he would. “My mistake, my apologies,” he said.
As Roessler approached Spokane International Airport, he was told by controllers that he was cleared to land on Runway 25. But “during the approach the Defendant lined up to land on the wrong runway,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Lister wrote in court records.
Air traffic controllers asked him which runway he intended to use and he shifted course and landed on the correct runway.
Once he landed, emergency and law enforcement personnel checked up on Roessler as he unloaded his aircraft and could smell alcohol in his breath.
Spokane Airport Police officers noted that Roessler’s voice seemed “mushy,” which made her suspect he’d been drinking. Once inside, Roessler walked directly toward a coffee machine, but an officer refused to allow the pilot to drink coffee because he feared Roessler was trying to mask his breath, court records state.
Officials tested Roessler’s blood-alcohol level. It registered at .108 percent. The legal limit is .04 percent.
Later, during an interview, Roessler admitted he’d been drinking whiskey mixers that morning. “The Defendant indicated he thought he was alright because there was an eight hour break from ‘bottle to throttle,” Lister wrote.
Roessler will be sentenced in July. He faces up to 15 years in prison, although he’s likely to get far less time. His commercial pilot’s license has been revoked.An earlier version of this post originally published April 30 reported the legal blood-alcohol limit is .08 percent. That is the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle. Federal aviation regulations state no person may operate an aircraft with a blood alcohol content of .04 percent or greater.