JetBlue pilot charged over mid-flight meltdown
The pilot has been charged with interfering with a flight crew after a dramatic mid-flight breakdown in which he screamed about terrorists and 9/11
Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 06:21 PM
EMERGENCY LANDING: Between four and six passengers had to sit on him for up to 20 minutes as the plane, which was three and a half hours into its flight, made an emergency landing, witnesses said. (Photo: Michael Buckner/AFP)
A U.S. pilot has been charged with interfering with a flight crew after a dramatic mid-flight breakdown in which he screamed about terrorists and 9/11, officials said Wednesday.
Clayton Osbon, 49, had to be restrained by a number of male passengers after Tuesday's incident, in which a JetBlue plane from New York to Las Vegas made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas.
"Several passengers assisted and brought Osbon down in the forward galley, where he continued to yell comments about Jesus, Sept. 11, Iraq, Iran and terrorists," said an affidavit giving a blow-by-blow account of the flight.
The first officer then "declared an emergency and diverted the aircraft to Amarillo, landing with passengers still restraining Osbon," said the document cited by U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Sarah R. Saldana.
Footage filmed with cell phone cameras and broadcast on U.S. television showed chaos at the front of the plane, as male passengers scrambled to help restrain the pilot, who could be heard shouting hysterically.
Between four and six passengers had to sit on him for up to 20 minutes as the plane, which was three and a half hours into its flight, made an emergency landing, witnesses said.
According to the affidavit, the pilot, who had shown no previous sign of mental problems, had arrived late for the flight, and began behaving erratically soon after the plane took off from New York's Kennedy airport.
"As the plane was leaving JFK and climbing in altitude in its scheduled five-hour flight, Osbon said something to the first officer about being evaluated by someone, but the FO did not know what he meant.
"Osbon then talked about his church and the need to 'focus' and asked the FO to take the controls and work the radios. Osbon began talking about religion, but, according to the FO, his statements were not coherent."
The first officer became particularly concerned when Osbon said "things just don't matter," and "yelled over the radio to air traffic control and instructed them to be quiet," according to the affidavit.
Osbon then "turned off the radios in the aircraft, dimmed his monitors and sternly admonished the FO for trying to talk on the radio.
"When Osbon said 'We need to take a leap of faith,' the FO stated that he became very worried. Osbon told the FO that 'We're not going to Vegas,' and began giving what the FO described as a sermon."
The first officer then suggested they invite an off-duty JetBlue captain who was on board into the cockpit, at which point the captain abruptly left to go to the forward lavatory.
When Osbon came out of the lavatory, he began talking to flight attendants, mentioning "150 souls on board."
"Osbon walked to the rear of the aircraft but along the way stopped and asked a male passenger if he had a problem. Osbon then sprinted back to the forward galley and tried to enter his code to re-enter the cockpit," it said.
At that point, the first officer used the public address system to issue an order to restrain Osbon.
In response, a number of passengers — many of whom were well-built men heading to a security industry convention in Las Vegas — piled onto the captain, and sat on him for the rest of the flight.
Once on the tarmac, TV footage showed the pilot being taken off the plane on a stretcher in Amarillo, where passengers spent several hours before continuing their interrupted flight to the desert gambling city.
JetBlue's chief executive Dave Barger paid tribute to the quick-thinking first officer, as well as the passengers who helped pin the captain down.
"That was a tough situation at altitude. The customers, the crew, just did a great job," he told NBC television's "Today Show" program. "That was a true team effort at 35,000 feet yesterday."
"I've known the captain personally for a long period of time. There's been no indication of this at all in the past," Barger said.
Copyright 2012 AFP American Edition