Two commercial airline pilots who were allegedly drunk were arrested today just before they were to take off from Miami International Airport, officials said.
America West Flight 556 pilot Thomas Cloyd, 44, and co-pilot Christopher Hughes, 42, raised suspicion as they went through security and became argumentative with airport security screeners, who would not let them pass with their cups of coffee, police said.
The screeners smelled alcohol on the pilots' breaths, and called Transportation Security Administration officials, who then notified Miami-Dade police, officials said.
Miami-Dade police responded, but the plane had left the terminal and was on its way to taxi and takeoff for Phoenix. It had to be called back to the terminal, police said. Observers told ABCNEWS affiliate WPLG in Miami that the tug or harness was still attached to the plane as it was being maneuvered into position for takeoff.
"The two pilots were offered roadside sobriety tests and were then informed that it indicated intoxication," said Miami-Dade police Maj. Mike Hammerschmidt. "They were both then given Breathalyzer tests and both tested above the legal limit of .08 in Florida."
Cloyd tested positive for a blood-alcohol content level of .091, while Hughes registered a .084, police said. The Federal Aviation Administration sets the legal limit for pilots at .04.
They were charged with three counts each of operating aircraft under the influence, driving under the influence, and violating a county ordinance.
Taxiing for Takeoff
The plane, an Airbus 319, had been carrying 124 passengers. Flight 556 was canceled and the passengers were placed on other flights to Phoenix, an America West representative said.
Cloyd has worked for America West since 1990, while Hughes joined the airline in January 1999. Both pilots, had good work records, officials said.
America West Airlines officials and the Federal Aviation Administration said they will conduct their own individual investigations before deciding the fates of Cloyd and Hughes. Until then, they have been suspended without pay. The FAA could revoke their pilot licenses.
Cloyd and Hughes are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association. Pilots can be fired for a single alcohol offense.
In January 2001, Northwest Airlines fired a pilot after discovering that he flew a DC-10 aircraft carrying 59 passengers from San Antonio, Texas, to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. A Northwest employee smelled alcohol on the employee's breath after the plane landed. A Breathalyzer test showed that the pilot's blood-alchol was .056, exceeding the FAA limit.
In 1990, three intoxicated pilots were arrested after flying a Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 carrying 58 passengers from Fargo, N.D., to Minneapolis. Federal authorities were tipped off by an inspector who had learned the three had been drinking heavily at a bar the night before their flight.
One of those pilots, Lyle Prouse, was the first commercial pilot sent to prison for flying while intoxicated. He was pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001.
ABCNEWS' Dennis Powell and Charles Herman and ABC affiliate WPLG in Miami contributed to this report.