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Interview: Lyle Prouse, Author of Final Approach

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Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1938, Lyle Prouse 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, Mr. Prouse 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 Prouse 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. 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, Mr. Prouse 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.

Lyle Prouse’s latest book is Final Approach: Northwest Airline Flight 650 Tragedy and Triumph.

Readers can learn more about Lyle Prouse and his work by visiting his website

Could you please tell us a bit about your book?The story?The characters?

This is a memoir/autobiography. The precipitating event was the arrest of an airline crew in March ’90 for flying under the influence of alcohol. I was the Captain of that crew. It was the first time ever that an airline crew was arrested for FUI and it generated months of blistering news coverage all over the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia.

I was fired, stripped of all my FAA licenses, tried in Federal Court, sent to Federal Prison, and went broke. The FAA and the trial judge took action to prevent me from ever flying again. The story details my rise from the ashes and my retirement as a 747 Captain…for the very same airline I was terminated from. And it even involves a Presidential Pardon.

My entire life is chronicled in this memoir, from my childhood in an alcoholic home, a WWII housing project, my Native American heritage and teachings, my rise from Private to Captain in the US Marine Corps, and includes a combat tour in Vietnam as a fighter pilot. It also includes the story of my alcoholism and my recovery from that disease.

How did you come up with the title and how much say did you have on the cover design?

The term “final approach” is the last segment of any flight and ends with the landing. In this case, Final Approach had more than one meaning. At one point, as I was being arrested, I had literally flown my final approach. However, the final approach that leads to my retirement was done with honor, dignity, redemption, and restoration.

I described what I wanted the cover to look like and the graphics folks at CreateSpace gave me several options. We fine-tuned the one I liked best and ended up with a 727 (the aircraft I was flying at the time of my arrest) in the landing configuration on final approach. It has the exact Northwest Airlines paint scheme sans any airline specific name and identification.

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt that you would like to share from your book?

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather, the ability to continue in the face of it.”

What are some of your favorite ways to promote your work?

I have no idea. TV interview spots would probably be powerful as well as newspaper reviews or other publicity efforts. I’ve done many interviews about alcoholism and our story was featured on an ABC Nightline Special with Ted Koppel (who wrote the Intro). I’ve also done two interviews with Diane Sawyer (Prime Time Live just before prison) and Good Morning America when the two America West pilots were generating publicity over being arrested drunk.

What is a typical writing day like for you?

I don’t know. I wrote in spurts as the motivation came and went.

What are some ways that you like to relax?

I’m an avid outdoorsman and hunter. I like sitting still for hours in the outdoors as I watch, meditate, relax, and bathe in a deep sense of gratitude for my life. I also still fly (a little plane) and I fly charity flights when I can (Angel Flights and Animal Rescue Flights).

What author/s do you think are overlooked in the writing/reading world today?

I have no idea.

What author would you most like to meet and why?

I already know Laura Palmer. She was the producer of the Nightline program but is a beautiful writer and published author of a number of books. I read three of hers before deciding to trust her for the Nightline project. Her writing niche is true life stories of comebacks from tragedy and her heart is in the right place for the beautiful writing she does.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to share with readers?

No. I love life and every day is a gift. So I relish myself in it. I have no dull, boring, or routine days.

What is something about yourself that would come as a surprise to many people?

Most don’t know that I’m a recovering alcoholic with over 22 years of sobriety. Nor do they know that I speak all over the US, Canada, have been to Spain and England (for free), and that I’m involved in trying to help the suffering alcoholic who wants to get sober.

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