A North Bay pilot accused of getting in the cockpit of an airplane drunk last month pleaded not guilty Thursday in a Santa Rosa courtroom.
Michael Ferrero, 62, was not in court for the hearing. His lawyer made the plea for him.
The case was not your typical DUI traffic stop.
A CHP aircraft was on routine patrol above Highway 37 in Sonoma County on the afternoon of Jan. 3 when an officer noticed a small plane "flying low and in a reckless manner."
The flight crew said they estimated the plane was flying as low as 50 feet and within 100 feet of traffic on Highway 37. Even sober, that is a violation of Federal Aviation Regulations that reads "pilots must operate their aircraft at an altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface."
They followed the plane to the Petaluma airport where it landed.
As the two CHP pilots questioned the man about his reckless flying they said they noticed an odor of alcohol on his breath.
They administered a field sobriety test right there on the tarmac, which they say Ferrero failed.
According to Bay City news, the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office officially filed charges last week including flying under the influence, flying with a blood-alcohol level greater than 0.04 percent -- the level considered intoxicated while flying -- operating an aircraft in a reckless manner, and operating or maintaining an aircraft under the influence.
Ferrero faces jail time and a fine, plus the loss of his pilot's license.