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    Pilots held at takeoff, accused of drinking

    Two America West pilots are arrested on charges of being legally drunk. They were about to take off with 124 passengers on board.

    ©Associated Press
    July 2, 2002

    MIAMI -- Two America West pilots at the helm of a Phoenix-bound jetliner were ordered to return to the airport terminal moments before takeoff Monday and were arrested on charges of being legally drunk, police said.

    Pilot Thomas Cloyd, 44, and co-pilot Christopher Hughes, 40, were charged with a felony count of operating an aircraft under the influence and operating a motor vehicle under the influence, police said.

    They were given breath tests and registered blood-alcohol levels above 0.08, Florida's legal limit for operating machinery, said Miami-Dade police Detective Juan DelCastillo.

    Cloyd had a 0.091 blood-alcohol level, while Hughes registered 0.084, DelCastillo said. Federal Aviation Administration rules forbid pilots from drinking alcohol eight hours prior to flying a plane. America West's policy is 12 hours.

    Both have been suspended with pay pending an investigation by the airline, said Patty Nowack, an America West spokeswoman.

    "We are indeed conducting an investigation," Nowack said. "If these pilots did have alcohol in their system, they will be terminated."

    Security screeners at Miami International Airport first noticed a whiff of alcohol on the men early Monday when the pilots tried to bring cups of coffee through the checkpoint, getting into a minor verbal dispute with the screeners, DelCastillo said.

    The screeners alerted airport officials who called police, but by the time officers arrived, the plane had already left the gate and was headed for takeoff. The airport tower ordered the plane back to the terminal, and the pilots were given a cursory sobriety test, DelCastillo said.

    The men were then asked to take the breath test and agreed.

    The pilots couldn't be reached for comment Monday; they were being held by police pending processing. It wasn't immediately clear if they had obtained attorneys.

    Cloyd has worked for America West since 1990. Hughes joined the airline in January 1999, Nowack said. Both pilots have good working records, she said.

    The FAA is investigating the incident to determine whether to take action against the pilots, which could include having their licenses revoked or suspended, spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

    The flight, which was to take off at 10:38 a.m. carrying 124 passengers, was canceled and America West found accommodations on other airlines for the passengers, Nowack said.

    It was the pilots' first flight of the day, she said.

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    From the Times state desk