Drunk-flying case back before the judge; other legal and
legislative actions continue
You know how a guy can
think, after a few drinks, that a really dumb idea is actually a
smart idea? John Salamone sure does.
Salamone, 44, of Pottstown (PA) is back in the news. He has
filed an appeal to his sentence for a drunk-flying incident that
made a national splash last year -- fortunately, a splash of news,
not a splash of airplane parts and pieces. Indeed, the commercial-rated pilot has been in the
news more or less continuously since January 15, 2004, when he took
an ill-advised four-hour joyride in his Piper Cherokee.
Salamone wandered in and out of the Philadelphia Class B airspace,
causing frantic controllers to divert airliners for safety's
The next thing they knew, they were diving for cover as Salamone
buzzed the tower. He also buzzed a nuclear power plant. Someone
must have thought, "that pilot is flying like he's drunk," before
he managed to land the plane in Pottstown and stumble into the arms
of police, who quickly determined why he was flying like he was
drunk -- he was.
Salamone's blood-alcohol content was .13,
and he also had Valium, a prescription depressant, in his
bloodstream. Valium combines with alcohol to magnify the effects
produced by either drug alone, and is customarily prescribed with a
warning against consuming alcohol, driving or operating machinery.
It is unclear whether he kept drinking on the four-hour flight, or
whether his bloodstream toxins represent his condition after four
hours of detoxification.
That he could land the
plane in that state was nothing short of miraculous. That he took
off in that state is nothing short of idiotic. Or, as the
Pennsylvania authorities prefer to say, "criminal." (When my
instructor told me a good landing was "any landing you can walk
away from," I did not realize that the alternative was to be hauled
off in a paddy wagon - KO).
Salamone, who is listed as president of J.
Vincent Concrete Contractors, Inc. in Pottstown
(PA), admits he has "a drinking problem." If this
incident did not clue him in, perhaps it was one of his two
terrestrial drunk-driving convictions or twenty driving license
suspensions, one of which wound up continuing for thirteen years.
These facts make us wonder why the Pennsylvania DOT did not do its
job and inform the FAA of the convictions and suspensions.
Salamone is presently in prison, where he is serving a six to
twenty-three month sentence, to be followed by five years of
probation, a $2,500 fine, and mandatory alcohol-abuse treatment. He
is likely to be out on work-release soon. But he probably will not
The Cherokee, none the worse for the flight, was sold by the
county, which is fighting to retain the $34,000 proceeds under laws
that allow for the seizure of assets used in crime. That decision
will be made by the same Montgomery County (PA) judge who presided
over Salamone's criminal trial.
Even if Salamone succeeds in his appeal, his flying days are
likely over. He violated some of the chunks of FAR 91 that the FAA
takes most seriously, and apparently was not exactly leveling with
his medical examiner about his alcohol history, if in fact he had a
medical in the first palce. Currently, the FAA Airmen Registry
shows him as having a Commercial Pilot certificate but no medical,
but then again the medical certificate info is probably
The Salamone incident led Pennsylvania legislators to pass a
strict bill against drunken flying -- Salamone's conviction was for
"reckless endangerment" and "risking a catastrophe." Governor Ed
Rendell, who is not a pilot, vetoed the bill, but legislators will
try again this year.