This is your pilot slurring: Garbled message from cockpit sparks passenger rebellion

Spending 10 hours aboard a plane is never a particularly fun prospect, but it becomes downright terrifying when the pilot appears to be so drunk that he can't speak properly.

It has emerged that passengers aboard an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to New York were greeted by a welcome announcement from the pilot, Alexander Cheplevsky, that was so garbled it was impossible to tell what language he was speaking. They became so scared that a group of passengers demanded to see the man at the controls to check whether or not he was drunk.

Mr Cheplevsky refused to leave the cockpit to reassure the passengers, who were told by the crew they should either stop complaining or get off the plane. The Moscow Times, which had a reporter on board the plane, claimed that an Aeroflot representative boarded the aircraft and told the passengers it wasn't a big deal if the pilot was drunk.

"Really, all he has to do is press a button and the plane flies itself," the representative allegedly said. "The worst that could happen is he'll trip over something in the cockpit."

Unsurprisingly, this did not reassure the passengers, but the crew simply told them to "stop making trouble". The incident, on 28 December, was only resolved with the help of Ksenia Sobchak, a television presenter, who happened to be on the plane. She made a few phone calls and after a delay of several hours, the pilots were replaced and flight 315 took off.

The newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that Mr Cheplevsky had been celebrating his birthday the night before, but the airline denied he was drunk. A spokeswoman for Aeroflot, Irina Dannenberg, accused the passengers of "mass psychosis" and said the airline would sue Ms Sobchak. The airline later issued a statement claiming the pilot may have suffered a stroke before take-off.

"I don't think there's anyone in Russia who doesn't know what a drunk person looks like," a passenger, Katya Kushner, told The Moscow Times. "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'."

Russians have something of a reputation for drunkenness in the air. Stewardesses on many Russian airlines turn a blind eye to the consumption of duty-free alcohol on board. In one incident in mid-2007, a flight travelling to Turkey from St Petersburg had to turn back after a drunken brawl broke out. Last autumn, special forces were put on high alert in St Petersburg after a Russian man on a Turkish Airlines flight to the city said he was hijacking the plane. When the aircraft landed, it transpired it was simply a drunken prank.

But an allegation of an intoxicated pilot is a worrying new development for an airline that has hired Western PR firms to help shed its Soviet-era image of rusting old planes, harridan-like stewardesses and poor safety.

The airline is already reeling from a crash last September of an internal flight run by its subsidiary airline, Aeroflot-Nord. All 88 people on board were killed when the plane burst into flames while making a second attempt to land in bad weather conditions. A report released this week said alcohol was found in the muscle tissue of the pilot Rodion Medvedev. Recordings reveal that Mr Medvedev, who was due to land the plane, handed over the controls to his co-pilot, saying: "You see yourself that I can't."

Winging it: Drunk pilots

* In December 2003, Virgin Atlantic pilot Richard Harwell tried to fly between Washington DC and London while drunk. The 55-year-old American was arrested shortly before he was due to leave Dulles airport after a security officer smelled alcohol on his breath. He was sentenced to 60 days in prison.

* In December 2004 Finnish pilot Heikki Tallila, 51, was jailed for six months after falling failing a breath test. The day before he was due to fly his Finnair jet out of Manchester with 225 passengers on board, Tallila drank six glasses of wine and a beer.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam