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The naked passengers weren't the problem

Published Oct. 10, 2005

(ran after plate change)

It started out as a pilot's flight of fancy, but ended up with his feet firmly on the ground, likely for a long time.

It wasn't the nude passengers authorities objected to _ there's no law against flying clothes-free; it was pilot Phillip C. Smith's alleged intoxication.

Smith said he, another man and two women had been drinking and decided to take a flight in the buff. High above Lake County and naked, Smith said, the passengers just looked out the windows. Smith said all he took off was his shirt.

Police got complaints of a plane buzzing houses. A deputy met the plane when it landed early Sunday.

While Smith talked, one passenger tried to cover herself with maps and the others just bent over, a sheriff's spokesman said.

"They didn't have a whole lot to say," he said. Police gave the passengers their clothes, which had been left in a car, and sent them on their way.

Smith, 49, was charged with operating a plane while intoxicated. He could face five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The Leesburg body shop owner also could lose his plane, valued at $15,000 to $20,000. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating and could suspend his license, a spokeswoman said.

Jail officials said Smith posted a $2,000 bail after his blood-alcohol level tested at 0.179 and 0.165 percent. Federal regulations bar flying with a blood-alcohol level of .04 percent or more.

Said Smith, "I'm very disappointed in myself."