Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Drunk Pilot

On a March morning in 1990, an intoxicated crew of three climbed into the cockpit of a Northwest Airlines 727 and flew 91 passengers from Fargo, N.D. to Minneapolis. Having been tipped off, the FAA was waiting to arrest the crew upon landing. Fortunately, the plane landed safely.

One of the crew was the flight engineer, Joe Balzer, who has now told his story in a gripping book entitled, Flying Drunk. Fortunately, this is an amazingly inspirational saga. Balzer was in denial about his alcoholism, and after his arrest he got involved Al-Anon and got sober. Unfortunately, he had to face the music, too. He was found guilty of a felony and was sentenced to a year in a federal minimum-security prison on an Air Force base. However, there was a strange fear that he would escape, steal a jet, and zoom off to freedom. So he was tossed into the normal crowd of ne'er-do-wells at a maximum-security prison.

It was quite a shock for Balzer to go from the clear air at 35,000 feet to the cold dungeon of a federal prison. His recounting of the year behind bars consumes most of the book. The same smarts that made him a fast-rising pilot served him well when dealing with street-tough gangsters. But he survived. Throughout the entire ordeal, his wife never wavered in support of her husband. And most importantly, Balzer's faith in God remained powerful. He did more that just survive - he did a lot of teaching and helped a bunch of bad guys along the way.

Ordinarily, you don't give away the ending of a book, but since it's freely publicized on the book cover and at his website (, I'll go ahead and tell you that Joe started from scratch and rebuilt his career, culminating in a job with American Airlines, flying MD-82's. The story of how he got that position is alone worth reading the book for. Throughout the pages, Balzer gives hope and advice to anyone caught in the web of alcoholism...all the while demonstrating how it is possible to overcome defeat if you do all you can do and turn the rest over to God.

1 comment:

admin said...

Tim: thank you for the post on Joe Balzer and Flying Drunk. Today, Joe is a recovering alcoholic and pilot for American Airlines. His mission now is to educate people about the warning signs and dangers of alcoholism, and keeping airplane passengers safe. If you would like to learn more about Joe and his book Flying Drunk, please visit or