Pilots Convicted of Flying Under the Influence

Jury Convicts Former Midland Pilot for Drunkeness in
Plane

06/10/2005

Midland Reporter Telegram

Former Midland Pilot Convicted of 2002 Drunkenness in America West
Airliner

By Ed Todd

MRT Correspondent

Convicted PilotsThomas Cloyd Jr., a 47-year-old former Midlander who grew up
in aviation and who, until July 2002, was a pilot for America West
Airlines, and his co-pilot, Christopher Hughes, 44, were convicted this
week by a Miami jury for being drunk in the cockpit of their airliner
just prior to take-off on a Miami-to-Phoenix flight.

“He (Cloyd) just made a terrible, terrible mistake,” said Tom
Dollahite, a retired Midland corporate pilot who has known Cloyd since
his growing-up years in Midland and was a dear friend to Cloyd’s late
father, Tom Cloyd Sr., a fellow corporate pilot who died at age 64 in the
1995 crash of a Commemorative Air Force B-26 Marauder bomber of World War
II vintage. The senior Cloyd, who was not piloting the B-26 at time of
the crash, was a seasoned CAF pilot who regularly flew the B-29
Superfortress and the B-24 Liberator.

The younger Cloyd is a 1976 graduate of Midland’s Robert E. Lee High
School. “He was kind of my surrogate son,” Dollahite said. “He and my
son, Tommy Jr., grew up together.”

Dollahite’s son, a retired United States Air Force pilot, currently is
flying for Southwest Airlines.

Cloyd’s mother, Margaret Cloyd, lives in Midland and is active in the
CAF.

The Associated Press reported earlier this week that Cloyd and Hughes
could be placed on probation or could be sentenced up to five years in
prison at sentencing on July 20. Florida Circuit Court Judge David Young
ordered both men to be jailed and held without bail, The AP reported.

“I sure hope they (the courts) are lenient on their sentence,”
Dollahite said, “but … .”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) “immediately” revoked
Cloyd’s and Hughes’ commercial pilot’s licenses after their
Miami-to-Phoenix flight was canceled as their Airbus 319 was being
removed from the gate by a tug in readying for flight on July 1,
2002.

Security screeners at Miami International Airport had detected the
strong scent of alcohol on the pilots’ breath, and Cloyd had gotten got
into an argument because he wanted to bring a prohibited cup of coffee
aboard the airliner, The AP reported. Airport police ordered the airliner
to return to the terminal.

Aboard the flight were 124 passengers and three flight attendants, The
AP reported.

“We have protected some lives today,” Florida prosecutor Deisy
Rodriguez said Wednesday following the two-week trial. She had
characterized the pilot and co-pilot as “stumbling, fumbling” drunks who
put the passengers’ lives in grave danger, The AP reported.

Testimony indicated the pilots had drunk 14 beers between them late
into the night prior to the scheduled morning departure of their
flight.

Cloyd and Hughes “demonstrated careless and reckless behavior by
getting into that cockpit under the influence of alcohol,” Rodriguez
said.

The AP also reported defense lawyers stated testimony indicated
neither pilot was visibly intoxicated and the pilots were not in control
of the aircraft when airport police ordered the airliner back to the
terminal. The aircraft was being positioned by a tug for taxiing and then
for takeoff.

“Flight doesn’t occur until the plane begins to move under its own
power,” said Cloyd’s defense attorney Daniel Foodman, The AP reported.
“Nobody was in danger. Nobody testified Mr. Cloyd did anything wrong in
that cockpit.”

However, Florida prosecutor Armando Hernandez said, “Within the
aviation community, it was clear they were operating this aircraft”
before the engines were powered up and before takeoff, The AP
reported.

Cloyd, who lives in Peoria, Ariz., and Hughes, who resides in Leander,
did not testify in their own defense during the trial.

Court testimony revealed the pilots had consumed 14 beers and had a
$122 tab at a Coconut Grove sports bar until 4:40 a.m. on morning of the
scheduled departure of their flight at 10:30 a.m., The AP reported.
Sobriety breath tests hours later showed the pilots’ blood-alcohol level
was above Florida’s legal limit of 0.08 percent. Experts testified the
blood-alcohol levels were probably much higher when the pilots boarded
the airplane.

Hughes’ defense attorney, James Rubin, said even if the pilots had
been drinking the night before their flight, they exhibited no signs of
drunkenness.

“There was no untoward sign of impairment,” Rubin said in closing
arguments, according to The AP. “They appeared to be acting in a normal
fashion.”

The AP reported that “central to the defense” was whether the two
pilots legally were operating the airliner prior to takeoff. However,
Rodriguez, the prosecutor, cited testimony that both pilots had performed
flight checks for 30 minutes before the airliner was pushed away from the
airport gate and the pilots, when questioned by police on the day of
their arrest, said “yes” when asked if they had been operating an
aircraft.

“They confessed, and they indicated that absolutely they were
operating that aircraft,” Rodriguez said in The AP report.


Jury: Former pilots guilty of being drunk in cockpit

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — A Miami-Dade County jury on Wednesday found
two former America West pilots guilty of operating an aircraft while
drunk. The verdict came three years after the pilots had gone on an
all-night drinking binge.

The six-man jury convicted pilot Thomas Cloyd of Peoria, Ariz., and
co-pilot Christopher Hughes of Leander, Texas, after deliberating for
about six hours. Both men wept as the verdicts were read.

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