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United pilot pleads guilty on alcohol charge

Pilot Erwin Washington was kept from flying in November. Pilot Erwin Washington was kept from flying in November.
Associated Press / January 6, 2010

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LONDON - A United Airlines pilot who was pulled from his trans-Atlantic flight to Chicago shortly before takeoff pleaded guilty yesterday to being above the alcohol limit for flying a plane.

Erwin Vermont Washington, of Lakewood, Colo., was removed from United Airlines Flight 949, which was scheduled to fly from London’s Heathrow Airport to Chicago in November, after a co-worker suspected him of being drunk.

Prosecutor Kevin Christie said two policemen spoke to Washington about the concerns and performed a breath test especially designed for aviation staff, which he failed. He recorded a reading of 31 micrograms of alcohol per 100 milliliters of breath. The legal limit is 9 micrograms.

The flight was canceled and the plane’s 124 passengers were put on other flights.

A blood test performed shortly after the breath test also showed that Washington had 50 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood. The limit for pilots is 20 milligrams. The legal limit for driving a car is 80 milligrams.

The 51-year-old pilot pleaded guilty at Uxbridge Magistrates Court near London and was released on unconditional bail. He will be sentenced Feb. 5.

United Airlines said in a statement that the pilot has been removed from service duty during legal proceedings and the company’s own investigation.

Washington’s lawyer, Chris Humphreys, said the pilot was remorseful.

Humphreys said an American Airlines pilot who recorded a reading of 39 milligrams of alcohol was given a fine last July.