Pilot held on alcohol charge

A Virgin Atlantic pilot detained by police in Washington has been charged with attempting to operate an aircraft while under the influence of alcohol, an airline spokesman said today.

A Virgin Atlantic pilot detained by police in Washington has been charged with attempting to operate an aircraft while under the influence of alcohol, an airline spokesman said today.

Captain Richard Harwell, 55, who is American but based in the UK, 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 Horwell, who has been stood down from duty, was still in custody and the issue of bail would be established later, he added.

The airline has started an internal inquiry into the incident.

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