When passengers on Aeroflot Flight 315 heard the pilot make his preflight announcement, they knew something was amiss. The pilot's voice was garbled, barely intelligible — and that was in his native Russian. When he switched to English, it was impossible to understand him at all.Oh well, just a stroke. Let him fly!
"The first thought that occurred to me was, 'This guy is drunk,'" said Khatuna Kobiashvili, a passenger on the Moscow-New York flight. "His speech was so slurred it was hard to tell what language he was speaking." . . .
The Dec. 28 incident is a black mark against an airline that has worked hard to distance itself from its Soviet past and assuage passenger fears after a jet operated by Aeroflot-Nord crashed last September, killing all 88 people on board. Pilot error has been blamed for the crash, and a report said Monday that tests had found alcohol in the pilot's blood.
Aeroflot spokeswoman Irina Dannenberg refused to comment for this article, telling a reporter to "read about it on the Internet."
Immediately after the incident, Dannenberg told Komsomolskaya Pravda that the pilots were removed from the plane because of "mass psychosis" among the passengers. . . .
Nearly three weeks later, Aeroflot issued a statement saying the pilot, Alexander Cheplevsky, might have suffered a stroke immediately before the flight. Tests administered after the incident found no signs of intoxication, it said. . . .
Passengers said Cheplevsky, when he finally emerged from the cockpit after refusing to do so for half an hour, was red-faced with bloodshot eyes and unsteady on his feet.Punchline here:
"I don't think there's anyone in Russia who doesn't know what a drunk person looks like," said Katya Kushner, who, along with her husband, was one of the first to react when the pilot made his announcement. "At first, he was looking at us like we were crazy. Then, when we wouldn't back down, he said, 'I'll sit here quietly in a corner. We have three more pilots. I won't even touch the controls, I promise.'" . . .
At the same time, an Aeroflot representative sought to assure them that "it's not such a big deal if the pilot is drunk."
"Really, all he has to do is press a button and the plane flies itself," the representative said. "The worst that could happen is he'll trip over something in the cockpit."
Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that Cheplevsky had celebrated his birthday the day before the flight.