Flying Too High in the Sky?

The drinking trial of three Northwest pilots raises safety fears

For travelers already concerned about airline safety, the scene in a Moorhead, Minn., bar last March was hardly reassuring. Captain Norman Prouse, a 22-year veteran of Northwest Airlines, drank at least 15 and perhaps as many as 20 rum-and-Diet Cokes in an eight-hour stretch. First Officer Robert Kirchner and flight engineer Joseph Balzer shared at least six pitchers of beer. Less than 10 hours later, the crew flew a Boeing 727 with 91 passengers on a 50-minute hop from the adjacent community of Fargo, N. Dak., to Minneapolis. While the flight arrived without incident, Northwest fired the pilots for drinking within...