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Monday, August 27, 2012

"Final Approach" by Lyle Prouse ~ Airlines & Alcohol

SUMMARY:   More than two decades after his prosecution and imprisonment for operating an aircraft while intoxicated, a Northwest Airlines captain breaks from the media frenzy surrounding his firing and public humiliation to offer his own version of events. Prouse, whose childhood in Wichita and other cities in the Midwest and South was marred by the "cotton-mouthed fear" of facing neighborhood bullies and the troubles of alcoholic parents, provides a memoir that skips alternately between his becoming a pilot in the Marines and the lapse of judgment that undid everything he had earned. After graduating high school, Prouse joined the Marines and was selected to receive flight training at a military institution in Pensacola. A stint at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro followed in 1963, as did employment during the Vietnam War flying combat missions, before Prouse departed the military to pursue work as a commercial pilot in 1968. His noteworthy career came to a halt in 1990, when he was arrested upon landing a flight in Minneapolis after a night of hard drinking with his colleagues. He was charged and sent to prison. Prouse stares steadfastly into his own history as an alcoholic, detailing even the most traumatic events with a remarkable self-awareness; he explains without excuse how his alcoholism strained his relationship with his wife and almost severed his relationship with his daughter, Dawn. Prouse, who obtained a presidential pardon for his mistake and eventually regained captain status with Northwest Airlines, constructs prose strengthened by sharp anecdotes. However, the flow of Prouse's story line can become stagnant under the weight of several tedious or obtuse passages. Although the divergences between the book's dual narratives can distract or appear incongruous, Prouse's recollection of his incarceration ultimately succeeds in indicting the prison system for corruption, sadism, incompetence and unsafe operations. An endearing retrospective, beginning and ending as one man's examination of a tragic segment of his life, which comments meaningfully on addiction and the unpredictable nature of bureaucratic systems.

Pages:  298
Genre:  Memoir/Nonfiction
Published by:  Createspace
Available on Amazon

From the Author's Mouth :

I wrote “Final Approach” for my grandkids and family but had no intention of actually publishing it until a friend read it and strongly encouraged me to do that.  The reaction has been surprising and I’ve been taken aback by it.

So much was said about this first-of-a-kind event in which three airline pilots were arrested for flying under the influence and most of it was inaccurate.  Reporters and journalists, TV news anchors, and late night comics all had their say and put their own personal twists on things as I sat, watched, listened, and remained mute.  I was amazed at reporters I didn’t know who claimed to know what I was thinking as though they had access to my innermost thoughts and how the public seemed to accept, without question, the information they put out.

Clearly, the groundwork for sensationalism was part of the scenario with an impaired flight crew at 35,000 feet and passengers in the aircraft cabin.  I understood and accepted that and I never attempted to excuse or minimize what had taken place – nor do I do that in my book.  Throughout the entire manuscript I take very clear and naked responsibility for the event.  Indeed, I’ve done that my entire life, including my Marine Corps career and my time in Vietnam.

Nothing excuses or mitigates what happened, not even my alcoholism; and I’ve never hidden behind that.

This event destroyed and shredded me, reducing me to an emotional shell, and I found myself thinking thoughts I had never before believed possible – suicide.  Hopelessness can never be reduced to a lower plateau than when suicide becomes seductively attractive and the desire to escape the pain and shame overwhelmingly outweighs the desire to live.

From that near fatal outcome came a story of beauty and redemption and one that I claim no personal credit for.  I suited up and showed up, but I can take no credit for anything other than that. 

As the story unfolded I experienced the absolute best of mankind…and the worst of it.  We need love the most when we deserve it the least and I’ve never forgotten that as I devote a lot of my time to helping those who are suffering as I once was.

In front of me as I write this is a statement that says, “I believe life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it” and that has become one of my credos as a result of what happened to me.

I need others in my life and that’s a gift of humility, something I once viewed more as a character flaw than asset.  I learned about humility through another form of the word – humiliation. 

What began as the most devastating experience in my life, and one that nearly ended my life, has evolved into the greatest positive thing that could ever have happened to me.  In my Native culture we often speak of ‘Grandfather’ or ‘Creator’ and I use those terms as well as the God I knew growing up.  Whatever He does and however He does it will never be something I can understand, but I do know that some power somewhere steered the outcome of this story and I had nothing to do with it.

I went from pilot to pariah, yet in an astonishing turn of events I ended my career as a 747 captain for the same airline I’d so horribly shamed and embarrassed; and I never fought or resisted my termination.  I went from prison to Presidential Pardon and even I, who was there every moment and lived every day of this, cannot possibly understand how it all occurred.

Blue skies,

Lyle Prouse
About the Author:
Lyle Prouse was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1938. He is part Comanche and grew up in an alcoholic home in a World War II housing project. He was active in his Native American community. After graduating from High School in Wichita, Lyle joined the Marines as a private but made the rare transition from enlisted to officer grade and ultimately Captain, a jet fighter pilot flying combat missions in Vietnam.
After his discharge from the Corps, Lyle became an airline captain for Northwest Airlines and flew for nearly 22 years before the same alcoholism that killed his parents almost destroyed his life. He was the first commercial pilot ever arrested and sent to prison for flying drunk.
The blistering media coverage was relentless as he was fired, stripped of all flying certificates, tried, convicted, and sent to Federal prison for sixteen months. The trial judge added sanctions on top of the conviction to guarantee he would never fly again. In spite of all the seemingly impossible obstacles, Lyle got sober, experienced many breathtaking miracles, returned to Northwest Airlines and retired as a 747 captain. In January of 2001 he received a full Presidential pardon from then President Bill Clinton.
Today, Lyle is a husband, father, and grandfather. He has been sober over twenty-one years and has devoted his life to helping others overcome alcoholism. He is still flying and has participated with all the major airlines in their ongoing alcohol programs. He remains active in Native American sobriety movements.
His latest book is Final Approach: Northwest Airline Flight 650 Tragedy and Triumph.
You can visit his website at www.lyleprouse.com.
About the Book :
This is the story of the first airline pilot ever arrested and sent to prison for flying under the influence. He was fired by his airline, stripped of his FAA licenses, tried, convicted, and sent to Federal prison. This was a first. It had never occurred before.
Lyle Prouse came from a WWII housing project in Kansas and an alcoholic family where both parents died as a result of alcoholism. He rose through the ranks of the United States Marine Corps from private to captain, from an infantryman to a fighter pilot. He made his way to the pinnacle of commercial aviation, airline captain…then lost it all.
Today he is a recovering alcoholic with nearly twenty-two years sobriety. This story describes his rise from the ashes of complete destruction from which he was never to fly again. It is full of miracles which defy all manner of odds.
In a long and arduous journey, he eventually regained his FAA licenses. He never fought his termination; he considered it fair and appropriate.
Miraculously, after nearly four years, the President/CEO of his airline personally reinstated him to full flight despite the adverse publicity and embarrassment.
In effect, the President/CEO gambled his own career by taking such a risk on a convicted felon and publicly acknowledged alcoholic pilot.
In another stunning event, the judge who tried, sentenced, and sent him to prison watched his journey and reappeared eight years after the trial. He became the driving force behind a Presidential pardon although he’d never supported a petition for pardon in all his years on the bench.
Lyle retired honorably as a 747 captain for the airline he’d so horribly embarrassed and disgraced. He lives with his wife of nearly forty-nine years and has five grandchildren.

He continues to work with all the major airlines in their alcohol programs. He is also active in his Native American community, and he provides hope to those struggling with the disease of alcoholism, no matter who they are or where they are.
The Dame's Review :
"Final Approach" is the story of a man who took  his very successful life and got it caught up in the insidious death noll of alcoholism.  Like so many before and after Lyle Prouse have done, we learn the story of how a seemingly innocent drink can take a strong, and brave, and caring man down to the dregs of  himself.  How boose can break his will, his heart and his morality to such a point he would risk the very lives of those he is committed to protect flying on a national airline.  He would become a would-be murderer in the air...one just waiting for the small slip greased by too much drink, to happen.  One mechanical slip that would send his planeload of passengers crashing to their deaths.
I was drawn to "Final Approach" out of a tremendous curiosity having been very familiar with the pilot and incidents described via the national news and other print coverage.  I wanted to see how Mr. Prouse would handle himself in his time of confession and "making amends."
From the earliest of paragraphs, I got the sense that he was making the "I didn't really know I'd had that much to drink" excuse, and that he set about to tell the story of  how alcohol (personified...made into a sort of boogie man of its own) was the villian.  He had become entrapped by the villian alcohol and it was unbeknownst to him how it had taken over and caused this problem in his flight schedule.  That was a disappointment from the get-go for me.  I'm the mother of a recovering alcoholic (now over 25 years sober) and I believe honesty is the only way out and into true sobriety.  So, to see an excuse right up front and center worried me about the way the book started.  Accepting personal responsibility is the first of the ways of getting sober for life.
However, as the book progresses, you can see that Lyle Prouse was greatly embarrassed and devastated by  his injury to himself, his potential harm to others, and his loss of his job.  It was enough to get him set straight and through a series of struggles, to find him working out his sobriety and then reaching out to others with his same issues.
Finally, as the book comes to a close, Mr. Prouse expresses his genuine feelings of wanting to be a resource to others, and of wanting to help provide insight into the alcohol and drugs that are hidden and  are acutely dangerous situations in the airline industry.  I felt this continued work on his own sobriety, and his continued means of reaching out were the keys to his health and well-being...and to the cause for good in so many other's lives.
I found the book fascinating in detail, and well written as a memoir/"tell-all."  It's a significant story about alcohol and airline pilots and the airline's work with them.  Prouse is a fine writer.  That so many in the airline hierarchy would work with him to help him turn his life around and give him another outlet for good was most heartwarming.
A good read for men and women, alike.  Probably don't want to read it on a plane trip!  :]
3.5 stars                            Deborah/TheBookishDame



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