Northwest Fires 3 Pilots Accused of Flying While Legally Drunk

Associated Press

Northwest Airlines on Friday fired three pilots accused of flying while legally intoxicated, saying the cockpit crew violated company rules by operating the jetliner within 12 hours of drinking.

Each of the pilots on the 6:25 a.m. flight from Fargo, N. D., on March 8 had blood-alcohol levels exceeding 0.04%, a violation of federal regulations, the company said.

"Northwest pilots have established a reputation for airmanship and safety," spokesman Alan Muncaster said. "All of us at Northwest are now challenged to win back our reputation for flight excellence."

The Federal Aviation Administration had already revoked the pilots' licenses after its own investigation showed that the cockpit crew boarded the flight within eight hours of drinking, the federal limit. Northwest imposes a stricter span of 12 hours.

Northwest Flight 650, carrying 91 passengers, landed safely at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where the cockpit crew was arrested.

Dismissed were Capt. Norman Prouse, 51, of Conyers, Ga.; 1st Officer Robert Kirchner, 35, of Highland Ranch, Colo., and 2nd Officer Joseph Balzer, 34, of Antioch, Tenn. None of the three have any previous alcohol or drug-related incidents on their flying records, the company said.

The Air Line Pilots Assn., the union representing Northwest's 5,400 pilots and about 36,600 other pilots, issued a statement Friday saying it has "no tolerance whatsoever toward drugs or alcohol in the cockpit."

But the statement emphasized that the three pilots are entitled to a fair hearing on the charges.

The National Transportation Safety Board has scheduled an appeals hearing before an administrative law judge April 3-6 for the three crew members.

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