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Pilots accused of being drunk in cockpit indicted

America West Airlines

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Two former America West Airlines pilots surrendered
Thursday on federal charges of being under the influence of alcohol while they were behind the controls of a passenger aircraft.

Capt. Thomas Cloyd and co-pilot Christopher Hughes appeared Thursday afternoon before a U.S. magistrate and were released on $100,000 bond each. The federal grand jury indictment was unsealed Wednesday.

If convicted, each man could be sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison and fined up to $250,000.

Both men were declared indigent by the magistrate and were given public defenders.

James Rubin, an attorney who has defended Hughes, will remain on the case as court-appointed counsel. "My client is entitled to a presumption of innocence at this point," he said.

Federal law prohibits pilots from consuming alcohol in the eight hours before a flight. Videotaped evidence showed the men drinking in a Miami bar six hours before their scheduled departure.

On July 1, 2002, at Miami International Airport, they were at the controls of their taxiing aircraft -- a Miami-to-Phoenix flight carrying 124 passengers -- when Miami-Dade County police recalled the plane.

Both men were arrested. A security guard had called police after seeing the pilots going through a checkpoint.

The indictment was another step in the two-year legal saga that has seen the case bounce from state to federal court and now back.

The state of Florida is continuing its battle for the right to prosecute the two men on charges of operating an aircraft while intoxicated. Arguments were heard by a U.S. Appeals Court in May and a ruling is pending.

Last summer, a federal judge in Miami ruled that the state could not prosecute the two pilots and dismissed Florida's charges against them.

The judge ruled that federal law pre-empts state law in the area of pilot qualifications. The court said Congress had determined that state law would apply only if there were a loss of life or injury.

The blood alcohol level of both men was above the state standard of 0.08 percent, but below the federal standard of 0.10.

Cloyd and Hughes were fired from their jobs with America West shortly after the incident for violating company policy. The Federal Aviation Administration also stripped them of their pilot's licenses.

State evidence showed the men spent the night before their flight at a Miami-area bar where their receipt showed a $142 bar tab for about a half dozen people. The amount covered food and the equivalent of 30 beers.

About six hours later, the men went through the airport security checkpoint on the way to their flight.

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