It wasn't long after JetBlue Flight 191 took off from New York's JFK Airport that the co-pilot noticed something appeared wrong with the pilot, Captain Clayton Osbon.
In fact, details have emerged that suggest something was off even before Osbon got in the cockpit. According to a federal criminal complaint against Osbon, the veteran pilot arrived for the morning flight later than usual and missed the preflight crew briefing.
The complaint notes, however, that Osbon, 49, initially did not exhibit any bizarre behavior. That changed quickly.
At some point not long after takeoff, Osbon purportedly told his unnamed first officer we're not going to Las Vegas and launched into a diatribe. He began muttering things that didn't make sense to his first officer about the need to focus, saying things just don't matter, and yelling at air traffic controllers.
According to the Justice Department's allegations, based on an investigator's interviews with the co-pilot and other crew members, Osbon turned off the radios in the Airbus 320 after yelling at the air traffic controllers. He also sternly admonished the [first officer] for trying to talk on the radio.
The first officer became really worried when Osbon said, 'We need to take a leap of faith', investigators noted.
Though initial reports said Osbon was tricked out of the cockpit, the complaint suggests that he bolted out of his own volition and headed for the lavatory, which was occupied.
This alarmed crew members, according to the report, and in the ensuing melee Osbon aggressively grabbed a flight attendant's hands, banged on the bathroom door, and told the woman inside to get out. He then reportedly yelled at passengers before attempting to re-enter the cockpit.
These events played out about 3 1/2 hours into the flight. At this point, flight attendants alerted passengers that they may need assistance and several -- including a retired NYPD officer and a group headed to the International Security Conference in Las Vegas -- helped pin Osbon down. They restrained him for about 20 minutes while the aircraft landed in Amarillo, Texas.
According to the FBI, which is conducting the investigation, Osbon remained in the hospital late Wednesday. He was charged with interfering with a flight crew, an infraction that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A court date hasn't been set yet.
Who is Clayton Osbon?
Clayton Osbon wanted to be a motivational speaker and was working on leadership coursework when Christine S. Lucas profiled him last year for the Guys in the Sky issue of a magazine called Richmond Hill Reflections.
It starts with a greater enhanced knowledge of one's being, he told her. I'd like to think the world is more than just getting up in the morning, making a cup of coffee, going to work, coming home, kissing your wife good-night and going to bed.
Lucas said she met Osbon several times in the course of the interview. Nothing made me think something dangerous or even as unusual as this would happen. I look forward to hearing what caused this to happen, and my heart goes out to him.
In her article, Lucas described Osbon as a man who began his first flights at the age of seven and dreamed of becoming an astronaut.
I've been instrument-flying since before I could see over the dashboard - sitting on phone books eventually, he boasted, referring to the act of navigation by referencing instruments instead of the topography outside.
Lucas, who portrayed Osbon as a fun-loving dreamer, said he was a man who believes you should offer whatever talent you have to make the world a better place.
He lives with his wife of six years, Connye, and a menagerie of animals near Savannah, Georgia but, like many airline employees, has a crash pad near JFK in New York's Ozone Park.
The aviation veteran received his Bachelors of Science in Aeronautical Physics and all of his flight ratings from Hawthorne College and Carnegie Mellon University. He claims to have flown more than 35 different types of airplanes in general aviation and began flying with JetBlue in 2000.
His flight Tuesday will likely be his last.
Mental Health in the Airline Industry
The FAA is reviewing the captain's medical certificate, essentially a good housekeeping seal of approval that the pilot is healthy. All pilots working on commercial airlines must have an unblemished medical certificate that is renewed each year if the pilot is under 40 and every six months if older.
To obtain the certificate, the pilot must undergo a physical examination by an FAA-designated medical professional that includes questions about the pilot's psychological condition. Pilots are required by law to disclose any existing physical or psychological conditions and any medications they are on.
According to JetBlue CEO Dave Barger, nothing in Osbon's records suggested he could be at risk. He said Wednesday that he has known the captain for a long time and called him a consummate professional.
Federal Aviation Administration documents show that Osbon's last medical exam was in December when he was cleared to fly. Many speculate that the captain, who assisted in JetBlue's pilot training program, likely suffered from some sort of psychological distress and the incident could be the result of bipolar disorder or a recent start of antidepressant medication. Others speculate that it was a brain tumor.
This isn't the first time a pilot has had a medical issue in mid-air. In 2008, an Air Canada co-pilot had a mental breakdown on a flight from Toronto to London. He was forcibly removed from the cockpit, restrained, and sedated.
There have also been several cases involving flight attendants exhibiting erratic behavior. An American Airlines flight attendant on a plane Dallas to Chicago had to be removed as it was about to takeoff. In the March 9 incident, the flight attendant screamed don't blame me if we crash and raged about 9/11 over the intercom in a pre-flight safety briefing.
Perhaps the most famous incident occurred in August, 2010 when another JetBlue employee, flight attendant Steven Slater, ranted over the intercom while the plane taxied at JFK airport. After his tirade, Slater grabbed a beer, activated the emergency exit slide, and jumped out. He was later arrested and charged in the incident.
View eyewitness accounts of the drama on JetBlue Flight 191 in the videos below:
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...