Texas comedian Ron White often jokes about nearly crashing while on planes, but this one might have been for real.
Federal Aviation Administration officials are investigating a claim made by two of the comedian's former pilots who say a drunken White nearly caused them to crash over New York City on May 11.
Scott Wolcott and Chris LaPlante, both veteran pilots who live near Atlanta, said White burst into the private jet's cockpit and threatened to fight them and crash the plane.
"He was there, and he wasn't real happy. In fact, he was real angry," Wolcott said.
White's plane, enroute from Ithaca, N.Y., to DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, was flying 28,000 feet above New York City when both pilots requested to divert the aircraft to the nearest airport for safety reasons, Wolcott said.
"I wanted to get the airplane on the ground because it was a threat at that point. The safety of the airplane was being jeopardized," Wolcott said.
Lawrenceville attorney Terry Lloyd, representing White, said the pilots' statements were false and a case of disgruntled ex-employees who didn't get paid what they asked for.
White, the owner of the airplane, fired both pilots the day after the incident.
According to FAA spokesperson Les Dorr, any person who physically assaults a flight crew member or threatens to do so is subject to a $25,000 penalty.
Both pilots said FAA officials on the ground heard and taped the entire conversation because White burst in while they were talking to controllers in the New York air traffic control center.
Kerry R. Lane, an FAA safety officer at New York Center, said the tapes no longer exist – they were erased after 15 days. The deletion, he said, is normal procedure.
Lloyd said the FAA will quickly close the case once the pilot's claims are investigated. "The allegations will not withstand scrutiny," he said.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.