Clayton Frederick Osbon, 49, was charged with interfering with a flight crew after the New York-to-Las Vegas flight landed. He appeared in court today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Clinton Averitte, who scheduled a detention hearing for April 5. Averitte said the government wanted Osbon held without bond.
“Do you understand what they say you did?” Averitte asked after reading the formal charge.
“Yes,” said Osbon. Wearing a green dress shirt and green pants, the pilot, whose ankles were shackled, frowned through much of the five-minute proceeding, except for a moment when he nodded and winked at family members in the gallery.
If convicted, Osbon could be sentenced to as long as 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for his actions aboard the flight, according to U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldana in Dallas. Her office didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on today’s hearing. Osbon’s attorney, E. Dean Roper, declined to comment.
‘We’re Not Going’
After the plane left John F. Kennedy International Airport, Osbon started ranting in the cockpit and “trying to correlate completely unrelated numbers like different radio frequencies, and he talked about sins in Las Vegas,” according to court filings. “At some point, Osbon told the first officer, ‘We’re not going to Vegas.’ He then began giving what the first officer described as a sermon.”
The flight’s co-pilot, Jason Dowd, locked Osbon out of the cockpit when he left the flight deck, prosecutors said. Passengers wrestled Osbon to the floor after he shouted and banged on the cockpit door, according to court filings.
In a statement yesterday, Osbon’s wife, Connye, said the family is declining to give interviews and they don’t believe her husband intended to hurt anyone.
She asked the media to respect the family’s privacy and said they won’t be making any further public comments, according to the statement released by JetBlue on the family’s behalf.
“It is our belief, as Clayton’s family, that while he was clearly distressed, he was not intentionally violent toward anyone,” according to the statement, which thanked the crew and passengers. “We know you were placed in an awful situation and we appreciate your ability to respond professionally.”
The A320 was around halfway into the journey of about 2,250 miles (3,620 kilometers) and cruising at about 34,000 feet when the incident occurred, according to data compiled by FlightAware.com, a real-time flight tracking site. On board were five crew members and 135 passengers, some of whom were headed to a conference of security industry professionals.
Osbon was subdued by the some of the convention-goers as he banged on the cockpit door and then tied up with passengers’ belts while an off-duty pilot helped the first officer land the plane.
As the co-pilot declared a medical emergency and diverted to Amarillo, the plane descended more than 28,100 feet in about 13 minutes, more than twice as fast as the approach that would have been used to Las Vegas, the data show.
Law enforcement officials “secured the pilot without incident” after landing, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.
The case is U.S. v. Osbon, 2:12-MJ-22, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Amarillo).