Melbourne police say pilot smelled like alcohol after crash, kept Cognac on plane

Christopher Hall was apparently taking son to Ohio

MELBOURNE, Fla. - Melbourne International Airport authorities said the 57-year-old Satellite Beach pilot who rode his plane across the grass before striking a communication tower shed "smelled like alcohol."

His 10-year-old son, also aboard the twin-engine Cessna Skymaster 337 as it was preparing to fly to Dayton, Ohio, to visit an aviation museum, suffered minor injuries but refused treatment from paramedics.

Police later found a half-empty bottle of cognac, along with a plastic water bottle filled with clear contents and the smell of an alcoholic beverage, police reports show.

Christopher Hall, described as an engineer, was charged with reckless operation of a vessel and child abuse without harm after airport police attempted to talk with him following the incident, reports show.

Hall, who is the principal engineer for the Satellite Beach-based Wireless Systems Engineering, posted a $4,000 bond about 9 a.m. Thursday and walked out of the Brevard County Jail Complex before getting into a waiting car. Hall has an extensive career in the cellular, digital processing and flight testing arenas, according to his resume.

The incident, which is being reviewed by the FAA, happened about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the airport as air traffic control tower workers attempted to guide Hall's aircraft. One of the controllers told airport police that Hall failed to heed their instructions and that his speech was "noticeably slurred," reports show. He was planning to fly the craft to Ohio, taking his son to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, according to friends.

It was not immediately known if he filed a flight plan, although private pilots are not necessarily required to do so, according to the FAA.

Air traffic control officials could be heard on audio captured in the moments leading up to the incident. At one point, the air traffic controllers ordered Hall to roll the aircraft back to its hangar but he refused, officials reported.

"Okay, 32 Mike, where are you going, sir?" a controller asked Hall, referring to the tail number of the plane. Moments later the controller asked, "Skymaster 32 Mike, is everything alright, sir?"

Air traffic controllers also ordered Hall to turn off his engine. Moments later, the left wing of the airplane crashed into a small tower shed at the end of the runway, bringing the journey of Hall and his son to a sudden stop.

Airport authorities said the Cessna was registered to Wireless Systems Engineering, based in Satellite Beach.

"We are proud of our airport operations team, especially the experienced and alert (air traffic control) professionals who denied runway access to the aircraft," said Lori Booker, a spokeswoman for the airport.

Police and fire crews quickly responded to the air strip and found the airplane sitting up against a shed next to the fence. Another person helped the child get out of damaged aircraft and reported smelling alcohol on Hall's breath. Both Hall, described as flushed and sweating, and his son sat down on a nearby golf cart and waited for authorities to arrive.

"There were minor injuries reported," said Lt. Pete Mercaldo, of the Melbourne Police Department.

Police said Hall, whose eyes were also bloodshot, according to reports, seemed disoriented and refused to supply his identification card or to take a field sobriety test. An unidentified witness at the scene of the incident told police to check inside the computer bag on board the plane to explain what happened.

Hall's wife, a local anesthesiologist, according to an associate, was contacted in Hawaii where she had taken a trip with her daughter. Authorities turned the child over to a longtime family friend. The wife is now preparing to fly back to the mainland, friends say.

Local 6 spoke to longtime friend, Dr. Kevin Simmons, who says he's flown with Hall several times and never had a problem.

"I was absolutely stunned that anything so overtly dangerous could've potentially happened. Obviously, he didn't get off the ground, that would've been catastrophic. I would've been afraid of what would've happened if that had continued," said Simmons. "Luckily, airport authorities, the tower there, was recognizing that there was an issue and managed to get it averted before it went much further."

The boy, in his custody, "is fine," said Simmons. "Obviously, he's a little shaken but he's OK."

The Department of Children and Families is investigating.

Melbourne International Airport remains open with regular flights as scheduled.

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