JetBlue Pilot Who Flipped Out In Midair Charged

 
on March 28 2012 10:53 PM
JetBlue
JetBlue pilot Clayton Osbon is pictured on the runway in Amarillo, Tex. on Tuesday. REUTERS

Federal authorities filed criminal charges Wednesday against a JetBlue Airways pilot who ranted about religion and the Sept. 11 hijackings and pounded on a locked cockpit door before passengers subdued him in a midair uproar.

Flight 191 was diverted to Amarillo, Texas, on Tuesday, following what authorities described as erratic behavior by Capt. Clayton Frederick Osbon, who allegedly ran through the cabin before passengers tackled him in the galley.

A flight attendant suffered bruised ribs, officials said.

The Justice Department filed a complaint charging Osbon with interfering with the crew, Reuters reported. It is unusual for a commercial airline pilot to be charged in this way, and a U.S. official said he could not recall a similar case in recent years.

Osbon, 49, remained in a guarded facility at a hospital in Amarillo Wednesday night, and U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana said he faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The 12-year JetBlue veteran was suspended while the FBI and aviation authorities investigate the incident, the airline and the government said earlier Wednesday.

He has been removed from all active duty and responsibilities pending further investigation, JetBlue spokeswoman Tamara Young said, declining to comment further on that investigation.

U.S. authorities filed criminal charges on Wednesday against a JetBlue Airways pilot who yelled incoherently about religion and the 2001 hijack attacks and pounded on a locked cockpit door before passengers subdued him in a midair uproar.

Flight 191 was diverted to Amarillo, Texas, on Tuesday, following what authorities described as erratic behavior by Capt. Clayton Frederick Osbon, who allegedly ran through the cabin before passengers tackled him in the galley.

A flight attendant suffered bruised ribs, officials said.

The Justice Department filed a complaint charging Osbon with interfering with the crew. It is unusual for a commercial airline pilot to be charged in this way, and a U.S. official said he could not recall a similar case in recent years.

Osbon, 49, remains in a guarded facility at a hospital in Amarillo, and U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana said he faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The 12-year JetBlue was suspended while the FBI and aviation authorities investigate the incident, the airline and the government said on Wednesday.

He has been removed from all active duty and responsibilities pending further investigation, JetBlue spokeswoman Tamara Young said, declining to comment further on that investigation.

An affidavit by an FBI agent shows trouble for the flight started before the Airbus A320 took off from New York City's LaGuardia Airport en route to Las Vegas with 141 passengers and crew.

Initially, he did not exhibit any bizarre behavior, John Whitworth said in the affidavit, which describes behavior that grew more erratic as the flight continued, CNN reported.

As the plane was taking off, Osbon said something to the FO (first officer) about being evaluated by someone, but the first officer was not sure what Osbon meant.

Later, Osbon talked about his church and needed to focus, Whitworth said in the affidavit. Osbon began talking about religion, but his statements were not coherent.

The copilot grew nervous when Osbon told them that things just don't matter and began yelling over the plane's radio system, telling air traffic controllers to be quiet, according to Whitworth's account in the affidavit.

The First Officer became really worried when Osbon said, ‘We need to take a leap of faith', Whitworth said in the document. Osbon started trying to correlate completely unrelated numbers and he talked about the sins in Las Vegas. At one point, Osbon told the (first officer), ‘We're not going to Vegas,' and began giving what was described as a sermon.

Osbon yelled jumbled comments about Jesus, September 11th, Iraq, Iran and terrorists while passengers converged on him, the affidavit said.

An off-duty pilot aboard the plane took Osbon's place at the controls as the plane made an emergency landing.

If the account of Osbon's behavior is correct, this guy was clearly psychotic, Dr. William Sledge, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine who has not treated Osbon, told CNN. That has all the earmarks of an acute psychotic episode. I wouldn't hesitate to make that statement.

Psychosis is an automatic disqualification from flying, said Sledge, who is himself a pilot, was a flight surgeon at the School of Aerospace Medicine and has consulted for the Federal Aviation Administration, the Airline Pilots Association and a number of airlines.

Cases of psychosis among pilots are unusual, but not rare, and can be career-ending, he said.

Dave Barger, chief executive of the New York carrier, said he knows and respects Osbon, who regulators said underwent a routine medical evaluation nearly four months ago and had a clean record.

The harrowing events raised questions about pilot medical qualifications and workplace stress in an industry under chronic financial pressure and more generally in an economy only slowly shaking the grip of severe recession.

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