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Co-pilot tests positive for alcohol before Bemidji SkyWest flight

BEMIDJI - A SkyWest Airlines co-pilot and flight attendant have been suspended without pay after police discovered alcohol in their system before their flight was scheduled to leave Bemidji Thursday morning.

Police were called to Bemidji Regional Airport at 5:19 a.m. Thursday after a passenger and Transportation Safety Administration staff noticed signs of alcohol consumption by the three-person flight staff, according to a police incident report. All three submitted to a breathalyzer test.

The flight captain had no alcohol in his system, according to the police report. The co-pilot had .035 percent blood-alcohol content level and the flight attendant had a .025.

It is illegal to operate an aircraft in Minnesota if the person's BAC is .04 or higher during operation or within two hours within attempted operation, according to state statute. It is also illegal to operate an aircraft within eight hours of consuming alcohol.

No member of the flight staff was arrested, but the report was forwarded to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Merissa Snow, a SkyWest spokeswoman, said an unrelated mechanical issue delayed the flight until later Thursday. She said a new co-pilot was flown in for the flight.

"SkyWest has zero tolerance for violation of safety protocol," she said of the suspensions. "Without question the first priority is the safety of our passengers and our crew members."

She said the company, headquartered in Utah, is investigating the incident.

The co-pilot told police that he began drinking at the Hampton Inn and Suites bar at about noon Wednesday and stopped between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. that night, according to the police report. He said he only had four 12 oz. cans of beer, although he admitted it was probably more after the responding officer questioned that claim based on a sobriety test.

The attendant told police she had four glasses of wine between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday at the hotel bar.

Officers responded after Hampton Inn employees contacted the airport and said the flight staff had been drinking and that they could smell alcohol on them.

The captain, who told police he does not drink, said he was not at the bar with the others and was not aware "when or what they were drinking," according to the police report.