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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aeroflot Apologizes for Pilot Incident

Aeroflot acknowledged on Wednesday that it mishandled an incident where a pilot was removed from a plane after passengers accused him of drunkenness, and the airline offered an apology to passengers.

The company said tests administered immediately after the incident showed that pilot Alexander Cheplevsky was not intoxicated. Aeroflot said several weeks later that the pilot possibly suffered a stroke before takeoff.

When reached for comment on Tuesday, Aeroflot representative Irina Dannenberg told a Moscow Times reporter to "read about it on the Internet." On Wednesday, however, the airline struck a more conciliatory tone.

"We accept that his physical condition was not good. We acknowledge the mistake and apologize to passengers," deputy chief executive Lev Koshlyakov said in a telephone interview.

Passengers first became alarmed after hearing Cheplevsky's slurred preflight announcement on the Moscow-New York route.

"The first thought that occurred to me was, 'This guy is drunk,'" said Khatuna Kobiashvili, a passenger on the flight. "His speech was so slurred it was hard to tell what language he was speaking."

As passengers, including a Moscow Times reporter, related their concerns to the flight crew, they were told to "stop making trouble" or get off the Boeing 767.

After a chaotic hour during which passengers pleaded with flight attendants, crew and several Aeroflot representatives who boarded the plane, unexpected help came from socialite and TV host Ksenia Sobchak, who also happened to be on board.

All of the pilots were eventually replaced.

Passengers said Cheplevsky, when he finally emerged from the cockpit after refusing to do so for half an hour, was red-faced with bloodshot eyes and unsteady on his feet.

"At first, he was looking at us like we were crazy," said Katya Kushner, who was one of the first passengers to react to the announcement. "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.'

"I don't think there's anyone in Russia who doesn't know what a drunk person looks like," she said.

Koshlyakov, however, gave other causes for the pilot's condition.

"He was in an extreme state of stress when he went out to talk to the passengers," he said. "He normally doesn't speak very clearly as it is, and he apparently spoke even worse now.

"Our pilots aren't trained for direct contact with passengers."

Although pilots are given a preflight checkup, including a "visual examination" by a doctor, tests for intoxication are not administered, he said.

"Each of our pilots is a highly qualified professional, and we trust them completely," Koshlyakov said. "No airline in the world subjects its pilots [to blood-alcohol tests]."

But the incident could prompt a review of Aeroflot policy to better deal with similar situations in the future.

"The incident is, without a doubt, highly unpleasant for us," he said. "We will definitely draw conclusions from it."

The pilot, Koshlyakov said, was being treated for an unspecified condition. "His future with the company will be decided when he completes his treatment."