JetBlue pilot faces 20 years for in-flight outburst

March 29, 2012 5:42:53 PM PDT
Federal authorities are releasing new details on the mid-air meltdown by a JetBlue captain who now faces criminal charges.

In a new report, officials say Clayton Osbon told the plane's first officer "We're not going to Vegas" before giving a sermon about al-Qaida, Iran and September 11.

The 49-year-old Osbon is now facing up to 20 years in jail on a charge of interfering with a flight crew.

Osbon came more undone by the mile, and the wild battle to restrain him is just part of the story.

The FBI says Osbon reported late to JFK Airport and missed the pilots' briefing. The, in the air, he turned over controls to his first officer saying, "Things just don't matter."

Osbon also yelled at air traffic controllers to be quiet and then killed the radio, dimmed his monitors and began ranting about religion, telling his co-pilot he needed to "take a leap of faith."

Osbon then left the cockpit, trying to break into a bathroom that was already occupied by passenger Sarah Straw.

"All of a sudden I heard a couple of loud bangs on the door," she said. "Then the door started getting pulled open."

Flight attendants heard Osbon yelling about the 150 souls on board. Then he attacked the cockpit door, sealed by the co-pilot, who had changed the security code.

"He almost got in there, and thats when I seen the door buckle a bit," said passenger and former correction officer David Gonzalez, who was credited with restraining Osbon.

The most alarming moment for passengers came when the wild, raving captain appeared to be headed to the emergency exit door.

"We are doomed," he said. "I am so distraught."

"I was assuming that he was going to open the door," Gonzalez said.

Air pressure makes it impossible to open that door at 30,000 feet, but in the midst of a struggle with the screaming flight captain, passengers didn't see that silver lining.

Passengers then wrestled Osbon to the ground and restrained while another off-duty JetBlue pilot who was traveling on the plane aided the co-pilot in landing in Amarillo, Texas.

Osbon, a pilot with JetBlue since 2000, was described by friends as an affable aviator who took his private plane for joyrides in his spare time, shied from talking politics and hosted Super Bowl parties. His father was also a pilot who died in a 1995 plane crash while on a sunken treasure hunt, according to a Wisconsin newspaper in the town where his family lived.

"I can't say whether it's shock or disbelief," said Justin Ates, a corporate jet pilot and friend who also lives in Richmond Hill. "It's hard to describe what you feel when you see something that's completely 100 percent out of character."

Osbon is being held at a hospital while he is medically evaluated.

JetBlue spokeswoman Allison Steinberg said Osbon had been suspended pending a review of the flight.

In Richmond Hill, a bedroom community on the Georgia coast just south of Savannah, next-door neighbor Bud Lawyer said he's having a hard time believing the man on the news is his good friend.

Osbon went to church but seldom talked about it and never seemed overly zealous, Lawyer said. And while the friends would occasionally chat about events in the Middle East, their talk never went beyond casual conversation about the events in the news, he said.

"He wouldn't intentionally hurt anyone," Lawyer said. "He's a kind-hearted, generous, loving teddy bear. It's totally out of character for this to happen to him."

Another longtime friend, Bill Curley, said Osbon is a Christian who has become "increasingly" religious but wasn't fanatical.

Osbon was also a direct marketer for health shakes sold by Visalus Sciences, a marketing company based in Troy, Mich. Ashley Guerra, a fellow Visalus marketer in Georgia, said she saw Osbon just last weekend and that he appeared friendly and helpful as usual.

In an interview last year with the local magazine Richmond Hill Reflections, Osbon said he first got in the cockpit when he was 6 or 7 and had ambitions of becoming a motivational speaker. His father and another man died after the engines in their plane failed over Daytona Beach while en route to look for treasure in Fort Lauderdale, according to 1995 story in the Washington Island Observer, a newspaper in the small Wisconsin community where Osbon's parents had a home.

Osbon's LinkedIn profile states that he received a degree from aeronautical physics from Hawthorne College and a physics degree from Carnegie Mellon University. However, Carnegie Mellon spokeswoman Teresa Thomas said Osbon attended the school for three years never obtain his degree.

"On a Sunday morning he'd call me up and say, 'Let's go for a flight,'" neighbor Erich Thorp said. "Even with that little Piper Cub, before he would take it off the ground he would spend 15 minutes checking everything out. He had a whole list he would check. He was as careful a pilot as you could imagine."

(The Associated Press contributed to this story)



(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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