Armed police hauled a pilot from a packed British Airways flight seconds from take-off amid fears he was drunk.
Airline colleagues believing they could smell booze on him dialled 999 worried about the safety of up to 300 passengers and crew.
An airline source said:
Cops rushed onto the plane and headed straight for the cockpit. The first officer was cuffed and led away. A number of passengers were open-mouthed. It’s terrifying to think what might’ve happened.
The first officer was one of three pilots and would have taken the controls for part of the 11-hour flight to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.
The Boeing 777, BA Flight 2063, was due to leave Gatwick at 8.20pm on Thursday.
Sussex Police confirmed they were called at 8.25pm and cops raced to South Terminal’s Gate 17.
A replacement pilot was found and the plane left at 10.56pm, arriving in Mauritius at 2.07pm local time yesterday — nearly two hours later than scheduled.
A 49-year-old man, from Harmondsworth, West London, remained in custody yesterday.
BA said it was taking the matter extremely seriously.