Two pilots accused of operating a passenger plane while drunk


Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 1:30 a.m.
MIAMI - A veteran pilot testified Tuesday that two pilots accused of being drunk while operating an America West passenger plane at Miami International Airport were technically operating the plane even if it was still on the ground.
Called by prosecutors, Capt. Joseph Chronic, vice president for flight operations for America West, struck at a key part of the defense's strategy in describing at length what the airline requires a pilot and co-pilot to do to prepare a plane for flight.
Defense lawyers for pilot Thomas Cloyd of Peoria, Ariz., and co-pilot Christopher Hughes, of Leander, Texas, had argued that that the pilots were not impaired.
They also said the steering was disengaged from the cockpit and neither pilot could actually operate the plane as it was being tugged toward or away from the runway.
Chronic said that airplane pilots are considered to be operating the aircraft even during their walk-around inspection of the plane and their preflight checks.
''During the preflight checks they were operating the plane,'' said Chronic, who has been with America West for 4 years and has worked as a commercial pilot for 33 years.
Last week, Miami-Dade Sgt. Steven Leibowitz said he tested both pilots after their plane was ordered back to its gate before it could take off for Phoenix on July 1, 2002. He said he gave them the test between 11:30 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. Earlier testimony showed the pilots left a bar in the trendy Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami at about 4:40 a.m. after a night of drinking.
Leibowitz said he judged the alcohol level for both to be at 0.10.
Florida's legal limit for driving is 0.08.
Tuesday, Leibowitz was asked by the defense why the pilots were not handcuffed after the tests.
''They weren't handcuffed because people didn't need to see two pilots walking the steep stairs handcuffed,'' Leibowitz said. ''It was more important for public safety that they not see two pilots in handcuffs.''
Cloyd and Hughes each face up to five years in prison if convicted. They have already lost their commercial pilots' licenses.
Also Tuesday, the judge dismissed a juror for making a parting comment about not drinking too much over the four-day holiday weekend as the group left court Thursday.
An alternate took her place.

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