Jail for Hovercraft pilot who was over drink-drive limit

Police officers at Athena Avenue. Picture: Malcolm Wells

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A HOVERCRAFT pilot who was almost three times the drink-drive limit while carrying passengers in an ‘appalling breach of duty’ has been jailed for eight months.

Married dad-of-two Richard Pease, 50, caused the vessel to have near misses with a tanker and a busy pier before missing its landing pad, Newport Crown Court heard.

File photo of the hovercraft

File photo of the hovercraft

Pease previously admitted being master of a hovercraft having consumed excess alcohol under the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003.

The court heard that Pease collapsed at the controls as he failed to steer the craft on to its landing pad at Ryde.

Sunyana Sharma, prosecuting, said he gave a breath test six hours after the incident on June 22 which gave a reading of 96mg of alcohol in 100 ml of breath, The drink-drive limit is 35mg.

Pease, from Cowes, who has 18 years experience as a hovercraft pilot, told police he had been drinking from a bottle which he had not realised contained alcohol in a bid to keep cool and hydrated in the hot cabin during two journeys which carried a total of more than 130 people.

Judge Susan Evans QC, sentencing, said: ‘It’s tragic that someone of your standing and with such an impressive past career should have destroyed all of that in one day.

‘It was an appalling breach of your duty. You put yourself in a condition where you were unable to discharge your duty as pilot of a hovercraft and your responsibilities to your passengers, the crew and the other users of the Solent.

‘Your actions could have resulted in tragedy but fortunately they did not.’

Miss Sharma described how Pease had driven the Hovertravel craft Freedom 90 from Ryde to Southsea, Hampshire, with 95 passengers on board when it failed to reach the landing pad.

He then piloted the same craft back across the Solent with 36 passengers on board when his assistant, handling agent John Randles, realised that Pease had slowed down in the path of a tanker heading towards Southampton.

Mr Sharma said: ‘What is normal procedure, if safe to do so, the hovercraft will cross in front of of the tanker and not reduce the speed.

‘It was noted the defendant did reduce his speed when coming across the front of the tanker, as a result of that observation, he (Mr Randles) asked the defendant if he had noticed the tanker to which he replied ‘Yes’.

‘At that point the defendant increased his speed and he averted a potential incident.”

Miss Sharma then said Pease started to lose control of the craft as it arrived at Ryde, missing the landing pad and headed towards Ryde Pier.

She said that Pease collapsed at the controls and Mr Randles had to take urgent action to take control of the craft.

Neil Fitzgibben, defending, said Pease, was of impeccable character and with 14,000 hours in charge of a hovercraft, he was Hovertravel’s most experienced pilot.