Clayton Osbon has been charged with “interfering with crew-member instructions” and remains in a medical facility in Amarillo, Texas, where his plane landed, said Jenny Dervin, an airline spokeswoman. He was suspended pending completion of an inquiry, said Allison Steinberg, another spokeswoman.
Flight 191 was en route yesterday to Las Vegas from New York when the pilot began behaving erratically, the Federal Aviation Administration said. The co-pilot locked out Osbon after he briefly left the flight deck, and passengers wrestled the captain to the floor after he started shouting and banging on the cockpit door.
“I’ve known the captain personally for a long period of time and there’s been no indication of this in the past,” Chief Executive Officer Dave Barger said on NBC’s “Today” show, calling the 12-year JetBlue pilot a “consummate professional.”
Osbon was in Federal Bureau of Investigation custody today, Dervin said. Calls today to the FBI office in Dallas investigating the case weren’t returned.
Flight Standards Officer
Steinberg said Osbon is a flight standards officer for New York-based JetBlue, a role in which he instructs, evaluates and mentors officers on the airline’s twin-engine Airbus SAS A320s. A phone number listed for Osbon in Savannah, Georgia, wouldn’t accept messages.
The airline declined to release further personal details on Osbon or on the co-pilot who diverted the plane to Amarillo, assisted by an off-duty JetBlue pilot. The crew of Flight 191 was given time off, said Steinberg, who wouldn’t elaborate.
Barger said in the NBC interview that the airline will review its pilot screening process, adding that he is “very confident in our procedures and the industry’s procedures.”
FAA rules require that airline pilots receive a medical check once a year if under 40 and every six months if older, according to the agency’s website. The exam includes questions about mental health.
The A320 was about halfway into the journey of about 2,250 miles (3,620 kilometers) and was cruising at about 34,000 feet when the incident occurred, based on data compiled by FlightAware.com, a real-time flight tracking site. On board were 135 passengers and five crew members.
The captain stepped out of the flight deck and was barred from returning by the co-pilot who was concerned after observing “erratic behavior,” according to an FAA statement yesterday. That put the captain in the cabin, on the other side of the secured cockpit door.
“It seemed like something was off with him,” said Gabriel Schonzeit, a Flight 191 passenger, said in a video posted on the website of the Amarillo Globe-News newspaper. “Within a short period of time, he started screaming about al-Qaeda and a bomb on the plane and Iraq and Iran and how we’re all going down.”
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.
“We’re going to need authorities and medical assist to meet us at the airplane,” Flight 191 told Amarillo air traffic control in a recording posted on the website LiveATC.net. The pilot later was assured that medical and security personnel were standing by ready to board the plane as soon as it landed.
Passengers subdued the captain in the cabin, the FAA said in the statement. Law enforcement officials “secured the pilot without incident” after landing, the FAA said.
The plane landed in Amarillo at about 10:11 a.m. local time. It left New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport at 7:28 a.m., more than half an hour after its scheduled departure.
In an unrelated incident today, the crew on a US Airways Group Inc. (LCC) flight between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Fort Myers, Florida, had to restrain a passenger who caused a disturbance “to protect the safety” of the flight, said Michelle Mohr, a spokeswoman for the carrier.
An off-duty law enforcement officer on the plane assisted flight attendants, she said.
The passenger became angry when flight attendants would not serve her alcohol and hit, kicked and spit at three attendants, according to a report filed by the Lee County Port Authority police. The passenger was charged with interfering with a flight crew and three counts of battery, the report said.