JetBlue pilot Clayton Osbon's lifelong career in aviation took a bizarre twist Tuesday after his mid-air mental breakdown made him a household name.
Flight 191 will likely be the last for this career pilot who JetBlue's CEO Dave Barger called a longtime friend and consummate professional.
JetBlue spokesperson Tamara Young confirmed to IBTimes in an email that Osbon has been removed from all active duties and responsibilities pending a further investigation.
JetBlue has characterized the incident as a medical emergency, though the actual reason for Osbon's strange outburst remains a mystery, at least to the public.
There is little in Osbon's past that would suggest what happened on Tuesday's Las Vegas-bound Flight 191. In fact Osbon was, by all accounts, held in high regard by his colleagues and assisted in JetBlue's pilot training program.
The 49-year-old captain was charged Wednesday with the relatively minor infraction of interfering with crew instructions. More charges could follow and the FBI is currently investigating whether to charge him criminally.
The FBI will present facts obtained through investigation to the United States Attorney's Office for its consideration as to any federal criminal charges, Special Agent Robert E. Casey, Jr. of the FBI's Dallas Division, said in a statement today.
As authorities began to piece together what happened, others still were trying to learn more about the man who was eventually subdued by his horrified passengers and removed from his aircraft in a stretcher.
What Happened on JetBlue Flight 191?
Flight 191 departed New York's JFK airport at 7:28 a.m. ET on Tuesday and at roughly 11:00 a.m., the pilot in command elected to divert to Amarillo, Tex. for a medical situation involving the captain. Another captain traveling off duty entered the flight deck prior to landing in Amarillo and took over the duties of the ill crewmember. The plane landed in Amarillo at 11:11 and the ill crewmember was removed from the aircraft and taken to a local medical facility.
That's the version of events according to JetBlue. Here's a look at how the passengers and various officials have described it:
Osbon was not in control but began acting erratically, flipping switches in the cockpit and appearing confused, according to officials. The co-pilot then tricked him into leaving the cockpit to check something out and locked the door and changed the security code behind him. That's when Osbon became agitated, according to eyewitness accounts. Numerous passengers say that the JetBlue pilot then ran through the cabin screaming say your prayers and we're all going down while ranting about Iraq, al-Qaeda, and acts of terrorism. Several claim a flight attendant then got on the intercom and asked passengers -- several of which were headed to an International Security Conference that will take place at Las Vegas' Sands Expo and Convention Center this Wednesday through Friday -- to restrain him. Passengers offered up their belts to keep the captain subdued.
A video posted on YouTube shows passengers huddled near the front of the plane attempting to document the scene on their cameras as a crew member says, Please everybody, we don't need pictures of this. Just stay seated.
On the ground in Amarillo, Osbon was removed from the plane in handcuffs and a wheelchair by local police. He is currently in FBI custody and will undergo at least two days of psychiatric testing.
Clayton Osbon - The Man Behind the Meltdown
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 the Georgia-based magazine 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, she told IBTimes. I look forward to hearing what caused this to happen, and my heart goes out to him.
In her article, Lucas describes Osbon as a man who began his first flights at 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 calls him a man who believes you should offer whatever talent you have to make the world a better place, as she portrays Osbon as a fun-loving dreamer.
The captain lives with his wife of six years, Connye, and a menagerie of animals near Savannah, Georgia but also has a crash pad near JFK in New York's Ozone Park.
Osbon received his Bachelors of Science in Aeronautical Physics and all of his flight ratings from Hawthorne College and Carnegie Mellon University. He's flown over 35 different types of airplanes in general aviation and began flying with JetBlue soon after its inception 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. Federal Aviation Administration documents show that his last medical exam was in December and he was cleared to fly.
This is not 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 like the one just two weeks ago on American Airlines. 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.