JetBlue pilot charged after in-flight outburst

March 28, 2012 8:03:39 PM PDT
The JetBlue pilot who freaked out on a flight from New York to Las Vegas has been suspended from duty and charged with one count of interference with flight crew members and attendants.

The airline announced it is suspending Clayton Osbon over the incident.

Passengers and crew aboard Flight 191 had to overpower Osbon after his co-pilot locked him out of the cockpit by changing the security code and he began banging on the door and running up and down the aisle screaming about al-Qaida.

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The plane was flying at 34,000 feet when Osbon began acting in an erratic and bizarre manner. An FBI affidavit filed in connection with the criminal charge notes that Osbon was later than he should have and "missed the crew briefing, initially he did not exhibit any bizarre behavior."

The affidavit notes that Osbon told the first officer about being evaluated by someone and needing to "focus." Osbon asked the first officer to take the controls and work the radios. The affidavit notes that Osbon then began talking about religion. The affidavit notes the first officer became concerned when Osbon said, "Things just don't matter."

According to the affidavit, "Osbon yelled over the radio to air traffic control and instructed them to be quiet. Osbon turned off the radios in the aircraft and started dimming monitors." The FO became really worried when Osbon said, 'we need to take a leap of faith.' Osbon started trying to correlate completely unrelated numbers like different radio frequencies and he talked about sins in Vegas. At some point, Osbon told the FO 'we're not going to Vegas.'" Osbon began giving what the FO described as a sermon. Osbon did not follow the company's security protocol when leaving the cockpit, which alarmed the rest of the crew. Osbon aggressively grabbed a flight attendant's hands. Osbon banged on the lavatory door and told a female passenger who was inside that he needed to go to the bathroom."

When he came out of the lavatory he began talking to the flight attendants but "was not making sense. Osbon mention '150 souls on board'. Osbon walked top the back of the aircraft. On his way, he stopped and asked a male passenger if he had a problem. Osbon sprinted back to the forward galley, and the flight attendants gave chase. The flight attendants had already notified certain passengers they may need their help.

Osbon started trying to enter his code in order to reenter the cockpit and he banged on the door hard enough that the FO thought he was coming through the door. The FO announced over the PA system an order to restrain Osbon. The flight attendants were already trying to stop Osbon down in the forward galley.

Several passengers jumped in to help and brought Osbon down in the forward galley. One female flight attendant suffered bruised ribs during the struggle. According to one of the passengers who assisted Osbon said, 'pray (expletive) now for Jesus Christ.' Osbon also yelled jumbled comments about Jesus, September 11th, Iraq, Iran and terrorists. He also yelled, "Guys push it full throttle."

Fortunately for all who were on board, a retired New York City correction officer was on the flight and is now being hailed as a hero.

The flight was diverted to Amarillo, Texas, with the landing aided by an off-duty JetBlue pilot who was flying as a passenger.

Osbon was in bad shape after a flight that seemed normal until he walked through the passenger compartment and then ran back to the cockpit door with flight attendants chasing him.

"He started banging on the door, kicking on the door, trying to get inside the cockpit," one passenger said. "He actually started yelling, 'It's going to blow up.'"

One flight attendant yelled for passengers to restrain him over the public address system, and passengers jumped in.

"He started to curse at me, started telling me 'Hey, you'd better pray, Iraq and Iran,' passenger David Gonzalez said. "So I said you know what, I'm going to show you where Iraq and Iran is, and I took him in a chokehold."

But Osbon wasn't done. He broke through the plastic handcuffs he was put in, and passengers had to use their belts to hold him.

"I wasn't letting go of this guy until we landed the plane," Gonzalez said. "I was still on top of this guy until we landed the plane."

Several passengers had a law enforcement background and were heading to Las Vegas for a convention.

Meanwhile, reaction is coming from neighbors in Georgia who say Osbon was the last man they'd expect to go wild.

"I've been knowing him for quite a few years now," Elton Stafford said. "Never ever anything negative about him, so this is really shocking."

Osbon also rents a second-floor apartment in South Ozone Park, Queens, for his layovers in New York. His landlady can't believe what happened.

"Great guy," Wanda Serr said. "No problem you would think, none."

As a result of this incident, the FAA is likely to review the captain's medical certificate - essentially a seal of approval that the pilot is healthy. All pilots working for scheduled airlines must have a first-class medical certificate. The certificates are required to be renewed every year if the pilot is under 40, every six months if 40 or over.

To obtain a certificate, the pilot must receive a physical examination by an FAA-designated medical examiner that includes questions about the pilot's psychological condition. The medical examiner can order additional psychological testing.

Pilots are required to disclose all existing physical and psychological conditions and medications.

The outburst came weeks after an American Airlines flight attendant was taken off a plane for rambling about 9/11 and her fears the plane would crash. An aviation expert could recall only two or three cases in 40 years where a pilot had become mentally incapacitated during a flight.

On the American flight, the flight attendant took over the public-address system on a flight bound for Chicago and spoke for 15 minutes about September 11 and the safety of their plane, saying, "I'm not responsible for this plane crashing," according to several passengers.

Passengers wrestled the flight attendant into a seat while the plane was grounded at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. She was hospitalized.

Then there was the incident involving Steven Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant who grabbed a beer off the cart following a profanity-laced tirade and then launched the emergency chute and jumped off the plane.



(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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