- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

MIAMI (AP) — Two former America West pilots were convicted yesterday of being drunk in the cockpit the morning after an all-night drinking binge at a sports bar.

The pilots face a minimum of probation and a maximum of five years in prison after being found guilty of operating an aircraft while drunk.

Thomas Cloyd and Christopher Hughes both bowed their heads when the verdict was read after a two-week trial and jury deliberations over parts of two days. Each man hugged weeping loved ones before being handcuffed and taken to jail.

Cloyd, 47, and Hughes, 44, were arrested July 1, 2002, as their Phoenix-bound jet was being pushed back from its gate at Miami International Airport.

Police ordered the plane to turn back and arrested the pilots after security screeners smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Hughes, and Cloyd got in an argument over his attempts to bring aboard a cup of coffee.

The pilots had 14 beers between them the night before the flight, closing out their $122 bar tab at 4:40 a.m. — roughly six hours before their flight was to depart. Hours later, they registered blood-alcohol concentrations above Florida’s legal limit of 0.08.

The pilots maintained they were not operating the aircraft because the Airbus 319 was being pushed by a runway tug and its steering was disengaged at the time it was ordered back to the terminal. They were fired by America West after their arrests and lost their commercial pilot’s licenses.

“All I can say is that we are very disappointed,” said attorney James Rubin, who represents Hughes and declined to comment on whether the pair would appeal.

Assistant State Attorney Deisy Rodriguez had called the defendants “stumbling, fumbling” drunks who put 117 passengers and crew in grave danger.

“We have protected some lives today,” Miss Rodriguez said after the verdict.

She cited testimony that both pilots performed flight checks for 30 minutes before the jet left the gate. When questioned by police on the day of their arrest, she said both pilots answered “yes” when asked whether they had been operating an aircraft.

Judge David Young ordered both men held without bail and set sentencing for July 20.

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