View Full Version : Ex-Virgin Pilot Pleads Guilty to reduced charge

20th Jul 2004, 11:39
Pilot accused of being drunk pleads guilty to misdemeanor

A former Virgin Atlantic Airways pilot arrested on charges of showing up drunk for work has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge.
Richard Harwell, 55, was arrested Dec. 19 at Washington Dulles International Airport, about 40 miles west of Washington, D.C. At the time, authorities said security screeners smelled liquor on Harwell's breath before the pilot was scheduled to fly 400 people to London on a Boeing 747.

A grand jury indicted Harwell on a felony charge of attempting to operate an aircraft while under the influence. But on July 13, Harwell pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of interfering with the operation of an aircraft.

A Loudoun County courts official said Harwell was sentenced to 60 days in jail with all but three days suspended. Harwell had already served that much time, so he was released. The official said Harwell was given unsupervised probation for one year and had his bond and passport returned.

Harwell's whereabouts could not be learned Monday. Although a U.S. citizen, Harwell lived in the United Kingdom with his wife and two children but was forbidden to leave the United States while the case was pending.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic said Monday that Harwell resigned from the company in March, and that it would not comment further.

20th Jul 2004, 14:02
As predicted on the earlier thread, he copped a plea to avoid the felony charges:

Plea Deal Reached By Pilot
Captain Accused Of Alcohol Use

By Maria Glod

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2004; Page B01

A former Virgin Atlantic Airways pilot accused in December of trying to fly a Boeing 747 after drinking alcohol has pleaded guilty in Loudoun County Circuit Court to a misdemeanor charge of interfering with the operation of an aircraft.

[redacted], 55, was arrested Dec. 19, shortly before he was scheduled to fly a plane carrying 400 passengers and crew members from Dulles International Airport to London's Heathrow Airport. [redacted] smelled of alcohol and his speech was slurred when he was escorted from the cockpit by a Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police sergeant five minutes before the plane's scheduled departure, according to court documents.

[redacted], who pleaded guilty July 13, has resigned from his job with the airline and will serve a year of unsupervised probation in London, where he lives with his wife and two children, said his attorney, Thomas C. Hill. Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne also imposed a six-month jail sentence and suspended all but three days, which [redacted] served after his arrest, Hill said.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Stephen Sincavage said there was evidence that [redacted] had alcohol in his system, but he said prosecutors could not prove that [redacted] took any action to operate the plane before his arrest. [sitting in the cockpit with four stripes on didn't count it seems]

Hill said his client, a U.S. citizen who was ordered to remain in the United States pending a resolution in the case, is pleased that the legal proceedings are concluded. Hill said he does not know whether [redacted], who had worked for the airline for 14 years as a captain and who holds a British pilot's license, will seek work as a pilot again.

"He was one of the most senior pilots at Virgin Atlantic. He resigned from his position, and he has been separated from his family," Hill said. "He certainly has suffered greatly from what has happened."

Hill said he does not know whether [redacted] has returned to London but said, "If he's not there yet, he will be shortly."

A British Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said yesterday that privacy laws prevent him from commenting on the status of any pilot's license.

[redacted] was arrested after a Dulles security employee reported smelling alcohol on the pilot's breath, airport officials have said. According to court documents, a breath test given to [redacted] showed a blood alcohol level of 0.11, more than twice the limit set by federal regulations.

The police sergeant who approached [redacted] in the cockpit said that [redacted] stumbled as he left and that his eyes were bloodshot, according to court records. [redacted] initially was charged with operating an aircraft under the influence of alcohol.

The flight was canceled after [redacted]'s arrest, and the airline offered passengers overnight hotel accommodations before flying them to London the next day. Passengers also were given vouchers for a free trip anywhere the airline flies.

After [redacted]'s arrest, a Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman said [redacted] had had a "stellar reputation" with the airline. He was placed on administrative leave with pay but resigned in March.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said yesterday that the agency, which sets a blood alcohol limit of 0.04 for pilots and forbids them to fly a plane within eight hours of taking a drink, conducted an investigation and forwarded that information to the British Civil Aviation Administration. Peters said he could not disclose the results of the FAA investigation.


20th Jul 2004, 15:36
That's great - hopefully he can now get on with his life.

Whatever happened to that America West crew that actually started taxying out and were called back to the gate? Both were loaded - did they do any time/pay fine?

Hotel Tango
20th Jul 2004, 15:48
Good news! That's great - hopefully he can now get on with his life.

Excuse me Oilhead, I may be misunderstanding you, but I fail to understand your apparent support for this guy. Judging by the evidence presented in court (stumbling, slurred speach) I think he's a very lucky man to have got away with it so lightly. What if he had continued with the flight? What sort of message are you trying to present here?

20th Jul 2004, 15:57
Have to agree with Hotel Tango and would go further as to say that the book should have been thrown at this man......there is no excuse for attempting to risk 400 passengers lives!

Anyone know whether he has lost his licence?

20th Jul 2004, 16:05
Quite simple really. Whatever he did or didn't do, he is now free to return to the embrace of his family and get back to being a rock in a household that presumably needs him. It is time for him, his family and the rest of us to move on.

Personally I find it quite easy to support/sympathize with someone who finds themself being tried and executed by the media and anonymous forum posters, such as us.

I am glad he is back home with his family. I don't think he needs any more punishment than being denied his ability to sleep under his own roof for the past, what, eight months?

Good for him! I wish him the best - he will need it - the really hard part is probably yet to come back in London.

Mr Chips
20th Jul 2004, 16:10
someone who finds themself being tried and executed by the media and anonymous forum posters
A former Virgin Atlantic Airways pilot arrested on charges of showing up drunk for work has pleaded guilty
A grand jury indicted Harwell on a felony charge of attempting to operate an aircraft while under the influence

:confused: :confused: :confused:

Quite simple really. Whatever he did or didn't do,

I don't think that there is much doubt over what he did do, and has admitted to doing.....

Bomber Harris
20th Jul 2004, 16:14
Oilhead. Good reply. The annonimity of the forum can very easily make us loose our humanity. Whats done is done....and legally over. So I wish him the best in his future too.

20th Jul 2004, 17:24
Yes, I agree also - this man should be allowed to get on with his life now. Sometimes good people do stupid things. That is not to condone the seriousness of what has happened but we should perhaps remember that this is one of our professional colleagues - how many of us might say, there but for the grace of God?

20th Jul 2004, 17:58
"has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge" Mr Chips.

Note, there isn't a single mention of alcohol in the charge

If the evidence was so strong, how come the authorities didn't pursue their case, but, instead settled for a "reduced charge"?

It seems, Mr Chips, that the era of the lynch mob is still with us, a characteristic of which is to use misquotes to fit the mob's version of the truth - in an attempt to justify hanging the victim.

"Interfering with the operation of an aircraft" is the actual charge admitted to. No fine, no time served.

Hotel Tango
20th Jul 2004, 18:04
Aah, all the do-gooders of this world, which is probably why there is no real justice anymore. Well I'm sorry gentlemen/ladies, but a commercial airline captain turning up drunk for work I consider an extremely grave offence. He's had his punishment and so be it, but I fail to understand why we should sympathise. And behind the curtain of anonymousity also lies the harsh but honest truth.

Carnage Matey!
20th Jul 2004, 18:13
Perhaps some of us don't sympathise but he's done his time and he's now free to go about his business without interference. Just because you don't like the sentence doesn't mean it's wrong or unjust.

20th Jul 2004, 18:13
"Harwell was sentenced to 60 days in jail"

Absolutely disgusting, the guy should have got 10 years at least.

Carnage Matey!
20th Jul 2004, 18:21
Er why? Did he kill anyone? Was there any independent measure of the level, if any, of incapacitation or the impairment of his decision making capability. Is there any indication that that particular flight would have been operated at a lower level of safety than any other, particularly one with a less experienced or more fatigued pilot at the controls? I think you'll find the answer is no. The offence committed was to arrive at the aircraft over the limit for alcohol. Not murder. Not even attempted murder. Perhaps the Court of Pprune could sentence FGH to ten years for reading The Sun too much? Anyway, don't you have a peedofile [sic] lynch mob to organise?

20th Jul 2004, 18:22
...Hotel Tango - the court has ruled: "interfering with the operation of an aircraft". No mention of alcohol anywhere in the ruling - unless you know something we don't?

You could be indicted of any number of charges, but that's not necessarily the same as the finding of a court. An allegation is one thing, the court's eventual ruling maybe (and often is) a very different thing*.

I say again, if your/the evidence is so strong re the alcohol issue, why this?

(*That, BTW, is called "justice", not tree hugging.)

20th Jul 2004, 18:26
If the evidence was so strong, how come the authorities didn't pursue their case, but, instead settled for a "reduced charge"?

Plea bargaining (http://www.expertlaw.com/library/pubarticles/Criminal/PleaBargains.html) - you accept a reduced charge to avoid a full trial, hence extra delays, costs, risk of imprisonment etc.

I'd like to see some apologies for those who slagged off the TSA for intercepting this guy. As it has been proven, job well done. But I won't hold my breath...


20th Jul 2004, 18:43
From your Plea bargain link, amanoffewwords:-

"What Is A "Plea Bargain"?

A "plea bargain" is a deal offered by a prosecutor as an incentive for a defendant to plead guilty.

If every case in the justice system went to trial, the courts would be so overloaded that they would effectively be shut down. Plea bargaining allows the prosecutor to obtain guilty pleas in cases that might otherwise go to trial."

Mr Chips
20th Jul 2004, 22:22
What does it take to convince some of you??? This man was noticabely drunk, FAILED A BREATH TEST and was sitting in the cockpit apparently ready to operate the flight. It seem sthat the only thing that the prosecutor would find it hard to prove was his intention to operate the flight

he failed a breath test
He resigned his job
He pleaded guilty to an offence.

Where in all of this is the slightest doubt that he was guilty? He escaped the more serious charge on a technicality. Prosecutors accepted a plea rather than have to try to prove a point of law.

How long will you people keep defending these Pilots? I do agree with "innocent until proven guilty" but
a. He took a plea of GUILTY to a lesser but similar charge
b. Failed breath tests are fairly compelling evidence, as a pilot at LHR may agree.....

Stop Stop Stop
20th Jul 2004, 23:32
At the end of the day, the guy was stupid for turning up at work. If he had a skinful, he should have picked up the phone and called in with a dodgy tum or whatever.

As it is, now he has a criminal record, no job and will be unemployable in this industry ever again. He has lost his livelyhood and his pension. Is that not punishment enough? After all, as someone said, nobody died.

One has to wonder if a few beers were consumed prior to the eight hours 'off' would you be over the limit? The fact that the limit is set so low, probably no-one knows for sure. What happens if you have 3 pints of beer with your dinner and then sleep a normal sleep, report for duty in the morning for an early and get breathalised? Should you be over the limit? Who can tell? I know that you would probably feel absolutely fine but if the machine says you are drunk then you are drunk. Then you can just imagine the headlines in the Sun..."Drunk pilot arrested whilst trying to take off.." or whatever.

I have to say, I feel sorry for the pilot concerned. He was stupid and has paid a big price for that stupidity. The only real way to ensure that WE are not the next headline in the Sun is to ensure that WE don't drink at all before a duty. That way, there will be no chance that the machine will flash a red light! Unfortunately, this is the way this industry is going!

21st Jul 2004, 00:35
I understood he was arrested sitting in the cabin checking the paperwork and therefore had not technically taken charge of the aircraft

21st Jul 2004, 02:43
Just out of interest - If TSA noticed dodgy breath or behaviour, I'm curious why the crew didn't? Personally speaking, I'm as loyal as Lassie, but I also want to get back alive to my family...

Ignition Override
21st Jul 2004, 05:05
This may not apply at all to the former Virgin pilot, but in the past, even FAA staff have been aware of suspicion of pilots being intoxicated, and the FAA staff allowed the pilots to operate the flight after voicing a concern! Apparently the Captain said nothing about this to the other flightcrew members and boarded the plane, sending them all on a journey into a living nightmare. Later, they realized that if they had been told, they could have called in sick and disappeared back to the hotel...

In this case, after the pilots finished the flight, they submitted to a breathalyzer, not knowing that they could have refused-having no legal counsel available. Before they went to court, the prosecutor's staff EXTRAPOLATED roughly what the results could have been at the beginning of their duty period. This breathalyzer guesswork was admitted in court, and all three served a full year in some bad prisons, with the really bad guys. This was partly due to a recent railroad accident in which the engineer had apparently been smoking the wrong type of cigarettes-unless one lives in Amsterdam and squats in a derelict gebouw. Not to excuse how much they consumed the previous night, but in past years (decades) some US airlines had no treatment programs for their employees who came forward to deal with a problem. The airline staff chose to either hide the problem or throw away the only career and retirement.:yuk:

21st Jul 2004, 08:49
If he was as bad as reports indicate what the :mad: was his F/O doing, why was he not told by his colleague not to fly, and why did they agree to fly with him in that state?

Lets hope we all learn from this

21st Jul 2004, 08:59
Whilst not professing to be an expert on the subject I believe the rate at which the human body gets rid of alcohol after a certain numbers of units consumed is now well documented.

I am currently employed in the railway industry in the UK. When I joined we were given full and comprehensive briefing and information concerning alcohol (and drugs) and how long it takes for the human body to get back to the prescribed limits. In short, my current employers go to great lengths to ensure their staff have all the facts wrt alcohol.

Things may have changed but I am not aware that such information is readily available to airline crew although doubtless there may be some exceptions.

Furthermore I can expect random screening at any time and such screening is automatic for all personnel involved after incident or accident. The limit is also one quarter of the UK driving limit - ie 20 mg.per ...

21st Jul 2004, 12:24
>>I understood he was arrested sitting in the cabin checking the paperwork and therefore had not technically taken charge of the aircraft<<

The feds usually won't buy this defense but it looks like it may have done the trick for the state charges due to the wording of the law. As I observed on the earlier thread:

"In the U.S., pilots can be tested after they report for duty. They do not have to start the engines (a little late to get the tester onboard) or even enter the aircraft. Of course, defense attorneys will try every trick in the book to claim that the test was improper (not that there's anything wrong with that <g> ). In one case it was claimed that there was no intent of flight since the trip was canceled due to lack of crew after the captain was arrested."

>>Whatever happened to that America West crew that actually started taxying out and were called back to the gate? Both were loaded - did they do any time/pay fine?<<

Like the Virgin pilot, they are facing parallel federal and state charges. They did the classic trip to rehab while initially entering an innocent plea on the state charges. Later they claimed they weren't in control of the plane since they were being pushed back etc., etc., etc...

Here's some of the latest in their saga from another thread:


Iron City
21st Jul 2004, 13:05
Virginia law with respect to motor vehicles has an interesting little characteristic called implied consent to breath or blood testing. By getting in the automobile you have consented to be at least breath tested for intoxicants, blood tested if authorities desire. If you don't consent it is accepted in court as proof that you were intoxicated.

Not sure whether this goes to the flying under the influence law, which I suspect any good lawyer could get thrown out on the federal preemption. Then the pilot would have to deal with the federal system...oh dear, not in the eastern district of Virginia. Plead your plea do 1 year suspended sentence, time served (3 days), 1 year unsupervised probation on another continent . This is somewhat lighter than but similar to initial driving under the influence convictions I have seen in a neighboring county in Virginia so all things considered I believe the fellow got off light and pleading to a charge didn't hurt.

21st Jul 2004, 14:46
Put him in a car. He dose'nt have to be driving to be arrested, just have the keys on him.
If he was in a car and arrested nobody would bat an eyelid, save for perhaps the odd grunt of "serves the old fool right", and it does, he should've known better with his age and experience... I cant understand why he risked it after all the training medicals... etc.
Obviously got away with it before and thought he could again. Perhaps his FO noticed on a previous and gave someone the 'nod' - and "they" were watching 'n waiting..... like bandits in th night ..!!!:oh:

21st Jul 2004, 15:32
Let's just put this to bed, let the man himself get on with what's left of his life and hope that all in the airline world have learned from this. Lets face it, regardless of if you are flightdeck, cabin crew, engineer, etc, etc, there but for the grace of god could have been many people in the industry.

On a personal note, I have to agree with the second & third paragraph of Ya Zi's comments on page 3.

21st Jul 2004, 16:06
There seem to be lots of 'experts' on this one and I expect there will be lots more. For those of you not in the industry do not pass judgement as you know nothing about it apart from looking at glossy magazines with nice aircraft pictures or you might even be able to land a 747 on your PC, forget it, it's not the same.
The guy has been given his passport back, served his time (a few months in the 'free US' is sentence enough for most of us) and will hopefully be back with his family soon.
Whatever the circumstances of his arrest you were not there! He is now free to come home therfore the matter should now be closed!

21st Jul 2004, 16:38
>>He is now free to come home therfore the matter should now be closed!<<

Well, if the UK is willing to ignore the U.S. federal charges and look the other way, maybe he is home free. Normally, like the America West MIA crew mentioned above, he would have to face the music in federal court as well.

Ya Zi
21st Jul 2004, 20:15
So, he plea bargained and got reduced scentence. From what I can understand of the US plea bargain process, the plea bargain itself undermines the judicial system by the defendant admitting a lesser charge to reduce his scentence toa level acceptable to both parties. As a result, the plea bargain is a happy compromise with the prosecuters getting a result - and the prosecuted getting away with a compromise which is far better then going the whole way and running the risk of losing. Therefore, although justice can be seen to have been served, the whole thing is a fudge with both sides getting in part, an acceptable result.

I mention this case in these terms as I have worked with Richard and know that the charge is both out of character and unlikely due to his lifestyle as a result of his medical history. I fully suspect that the sentence fulfilled the requirement of both parties within the parameters of above.

So please don't judge the person without knowing the facts. And I don't consider the finding of the US courts to be an accurate representation of the facts!

23rd Jul 2004, 14:46
Here's another article from a local paper that discusses the weakness in the state case. Apparently the state feared that they couldn't prove that the former 747 captain was attempting to operate the plane. Also, under state law, impairment in commanding a 747 at a BAL of .07% was in question.


Pilot Accepts Plea Deal, Avoids DUI Charge

Dan Telvock

Jul 22, 2004 -- A former Virgin Atlantic pilot charged last year with trying to operate an aircraft under the influence of alcohol has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in the case.

Loudoun Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Steven Sincavage said that [redacted], 55, of London, pleaded guilty July 13 in Loudoun Circuit Court to interfering with the operation of an aircraft. He was originally charged with trying to fly a plane under the influence of alcohol.

Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne sentenced [redacted] to six months in jail, suspending all but three days of which [redacted] served after his arrest at Dulles International Airport Dec. 19, 2003.

Sincavage said what prevented him from taking the case to trial was a lack of proof that [redacted] was attempting to operate the plane.

“It became clear that there was going to be substantial evidentiary issues about him operating [the plane] and it was going to be pretty hard to prove this thing beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

Sincavage said there was alcohol in [redacted]’s system that night—the blood toxicology report stated [redacted] had a level of 0.07—but it would have become a controversial issue at trial whether [redacted] was actually impaired to pilot the plane.

A Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority representative said that an airport employee smelled alcohol on [redacted] and noticed his speech was slurred shortly before the plane was to fly to London. A police sergeant who arrested [redacted] also noted that he smelled alcohol on [redacted] and that he stumbled in the cockpit.

Although he was placed on administrative leave with pay, [redacted] resigned from Virgin Atlantic in March. The FAA conducted an investigation of the case but a representative would not release the details of the investigation.