- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

LEESBURG, Va. — A pilot accused of showing up drunk to fly a plane from Washington to London was released from jail yesterday after posting $25,000 bail and surrendering his passport.

Richard George Harwell, 55, refused to talk to reporters while leaving the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center in Leesburg.

Hours earlier, the Virgin Atlantic Airways pilot had appeared on a closed-circuit television link from the jail, where he had been since his arrest late Friday at the Washington Dulles International Airport.

Security screeners alerted Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police after detecting alcohol on Mr. Harwell’s breath, an airport spokeswoman said. Officers escorted Mr. Harwell off his plane and questioned him at the airport before charging him with attempting to operate an aircraft while under the influence of an intoxicating drug or alcohol. The felony carries a maximum five years in prison and up to a $2,500 fine.

An Airports Authority officer testified that he had approached Mr. Harwell about two hours before the plane’s scheduled departure. The officer said no passengers were aboard, and the flight attendants were readying the cabin.

The 14-year Virgin Atlantic employee remained suspended by the airline, which said Mr. Harwell is a U.S. citizen who lives in London and had a spotless record with the company.

Mr. Harwell’s lawyers tried to persuade Loudoun County Traffic Court Judge James Forsyth to allow their client to return home.

“He’s not doing well. He has a medical condition — a heart condition,” attorney Thomas Hill told the judge, adding that Mr. Harwell needed to see his cardiologist in London. Outside court, Mr. Hill declined to elaborate about the heart condition.

Virgin Atlantic spokesman Paul Moore said Mr. Harwell had an operation “a number of years ago,” but declined to be more specific. Mr. Moore added that Britain’s aviation regulators had licensed Mr. Harwell.

“He’s a model of stability in terms of his life,” Mr. Hill told the judge. Mr. Hill said his client has been married 25 years and that his wife and two children live in London. “He’s not a flight risk at all.”

Prosecutors were against any bail because Mr. Harwell lives overseas.

“Once a defendant has crossed that border, it is very difficult to get them to come back,” said Judge Forsyth, who moved the case to the criminal division. The judge said he still would consider other proposals from Mr. Harwell’s attorneys that might allow their client to leave the country.

The company is conducting an internal review, Mr. Moore said. He added that the airline is paying for the attorneys and that Mr. Harwell’s union, the British Air Line Pilots Association, had posted the bail money.

“We’re still extremely shocked and saddened by this incident and the fact that one of our senior pilots with a previously exemplary record is now facing this extremely serious charge,” Mr. Moore said. He said it was the first time in the airline’s nearly 20-year history that a pilot had faced such a charge.

The 383 passengers and crew of 17 on Flight 022 were put up Friday night at area hotels, with their flight leaving Saturday night, more than 26 hours late. The passengers received a voucher for a free flight on the airline.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it would conduct a civil investigation to accompany Virginia’s criminal investigation.

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