Interview with Lyle Prouse: 'The most difficult part was reliving the horror, shame and disgrace'

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

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.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Lyle.  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

The incident at the core of the story was a national media event that captured the public’s attention for weeks and months on end.  It was the first time a crew of commercial airline pilots had been arrested for flying impaired, i.e., after a hard night of drinking.  I was the Captain of that flight crew.

As the days unfolded after my arrest, with all the media sensation, I watched the story reported with very little regard to the facts or truth.  Some of it was accurate but most was not.  Speculation, sensationalism, the desire to scoop competitors, all of this became the driving force behind the headlines.

I’ve written the full story, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and all of it is truthful; I’ve had four people read it who were there at the various times in the story and fact check it for accuracy.  I wanted it absolutely dead-on for truth and accuracy; no exaggerations, no embellishment, and no skewed images.

I returned a lucrative half-advance payment from a publishing company when they insisted I alter the story for their purposes in a way that affected the story’s integrity.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

The most difficult part was reliving the horror, shame, and disgrace as I slowly plodded through that part of the story.  I was reading source documents such as the trial transcript, my prison journal, and all my military records as I constructed the story and put it all together. 

As far as the mechanics of book writing are concerned, I doubt I’d do it again.  But this was a story I owed to my grandchildren, my friends, and my family, so I did it.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

CreateSpace was recommended to me by another person who had used them for self-publishing.  I can’t say enough good things about them; they were just great from start to finish.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

We had two TV movie offers before I wrote the book.  In both cases the movie people wanted expansive creative license to dress up the story for commercial purposes.  I was not willing to do that regardless of the money offered.  I was told that the only way to get the story out truthfully was to write it myself.  I had no idea how hard it would be to get someone to actually read it and provide publishing information.  What I encountered primarily were those who wanted to quick scan the book, sample some reading here and there, and completely miss the entire point of the story.  That was both surprising and disappointing.

Q:  Can you describe the feeling you had when you saw your published book for the first time?  

Relief.  I was glad it was finally done and over.  I had no idea the reaction from the Reader Reviews on would be as surprisingly enthusiastic as they’ve been.  I was just glad to have it finally finished and done with.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

I’m not working on anything.  I’ve been told by several others in the writing field that I probably have more books in me but I have not pushed in that direction – yet.  Nor do I expect to although I suppose it’s always a possibility.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

That we can come back from situations stamped with the word impossible, that there is a place within us we can reach when the darkness seems it can get no darker, and when all hope is reduced to the seductive attraction of suicide.  All we need is the help and guidance of others who have traveled down dark paths themselves and who can whisper those magical words of hope we all need to hear and believe in.  But we must be able to listen…and hear.

Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

Only that my life has never been better and that it came from a situation I never thought could ever be worse. 

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