JetBlue pilot accused of being drunk moments before flight to Fort Lauderdale

Pilot James Clifton could face federal charges

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A JetBlue pilot suspected of being drunk was pulled off a plane Wednesday in Buffalo, New York, moments before it was scheduled to take off for Fort Lauderdale.

The co-pilot allegedly blew four times the legal limit for pilots on a breathalyzer test, according to Helen Tederous, public affairs director for NFTA, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

Police said the 52-year-old pilot, identified as James Clifton, of Orlando, blew a 0.17 on a breathalyzer test.

Passenger Bill Murphy said he credited the captain of the plane and the staff for taking quick action.

“They recognized the problem and they got him out of there right away,” Murphy said.

According to a police report, when asked if he had any alcoholic drinks, Clifton told authorities “he only had five to six the night before at dinner.”

An officer reported overhearing Clifton telling someone on the phone “he had consumed about ‘10 22-ounce tall boys’ and left the restaurant around midnight.”

Murphy said Clifton was escorted off the plane without incident.

“The next thing I saw out of my window was the two NFTA officers took the co-pilot down the side stairs down the jet walk, put him a squad car, and drove him away,” he recalled.

A JetBlue representative said the airline is working with authorities.

“We adhere to all DOT rules and requirements concerning alcohol at all times and have a very strict zero tolerance internal alcohol policy,” said spokesperson Derek Dombrowski.

Clifton has been removed from his duties at JetBlue.

“He may very well face federal charges,”Tederous said.

About the Author:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.