Virgin pilot charged over trying to fly plane after drinking

A Virgin Atlantic pilot detained by police in Washington has been charged with attempting to operate an aircraft while under the influence of alcohol.
Captain Richard Harwell, 55, who is American but lives in the UK with his family, had been due to take 383 passengers on a Virgin Atlantic flight from Washington to Heathrow airport in London when he was arrested.

The spokesman said Capt Harwell had been with the airline 14 years and had an "unblemished record".

"Everyone at Virgin Atlantic is shocked and surprised," the spokesman said."This is unprecedented - it's the first time it has happened in the 20 years we've been operating and is totally out of character for Captain Harwell, who is an extremely experienced and popular pilot.

"We are at a loss to explain what has happened."

Capt Harwell, who has been stood down from duty, was still in custody and the issue of bail would be established later, he added.

Friday night's VS22 flight had to be delayed after the pilot was arrested and the stranded travellers were put up in hotels until a new crew could be found.

The pilot was detained by Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority Police Department shortly before his flight after security screeners detected alcohol on his breath.

He was escorted off the plane by airport police, who were alerted by the Transportation Safety Administration, which suspected he was under the influence of alcohol.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesman said all the stranded passengers had been offered a free return flight and appreciated the airline's actions to help them, despite being frustrated at the delay.

"We were open and candid with them and immediately said why the plane was not able to fly," he said.

The spokesman added: "Our policy of no tolerance to alcohol in the workplace is well established and well understood, and well understood by Captain Harwell."

Story filed: 14:16 Saturday 20th December 2003

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