Wed March 28 2012, 07:25 PMBF
JetBlue pilot faces federal charges
Federal authorities have charged a JetBlue Airways captain with interfering with a flight crew after he became unglued and disrupted a flight Tuesday after screaming about a bomb.
An affidavit unsealed Wednesday states that Capt. Clayton Osbon told his co-pilots that things didn't matter during a New York flight bound for Las Vegas. Court documents say Osbon told the plane's first officer, "We're not going to Vegas" and began giving a sermon.
Passengers wrestled Osbon, 49, to the ground after he left the cockpit and sprinted down the cabin screaming and urging everyone to pray. The plane made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas. No one on board was hurt.
BLOG: JetBlue incident as it unfolded
MORE: Criminal complaint against pilot
Osbon, a 12-year veteran of the airline, was suspended by the airline and is undergoing medical care. If convicted of interfering with a flight crew, he could face up to 20 years' imprisonment and up to $250,000 in fines.
An FBI affidavit filed with the complaint said Osbon arrived later than he should have for Flight 191 and missed the crew briefing. After takeoff, Osbon told his co-pilot he was being evaluated by someone, then began talking about religion in an incoherent way, according to the affidavit from FBI Agent John Whitworth.
The co-pilot became concerned when Osbon said, "Things just don't matter" and "We need to take a leap of faith," according to the affidavit.
Osbon abruptly left the cockpit to go to the forward lavatory, alarming the rest of the flight crew when he didn't follow the company's protocol for leaving the cockpit, according to the affidavit.
When flight attendants met Osbon and asked him what was wrong, he became aggressive and banged on the door of the occupied lavatory, saying he needed to get inside.
Osbon walked to the rear of the aircraft but along the way stopped and asked a male passenger if he had a problem. Osbon then sprinted back to the forward galley and tried to enter his code to re-enter the cockpit.
The co-pilot asked over the intercom for passengers to restrain Osbon, which they did, and he yelled comments about Jesus, Sept. 11, Iraq, Iran and terrorists.
Osbon was removed from the aircraft and taken to a facility in the Northwest Texas Healthcare System in Amarillo for medical evaluation, where he remains.
The case is being investigated by the FBI, along with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and Amarillo police.
JetBlue CEO Dave Barger told NBC's Today show Wednesday that Osbon had been a "consummate professional."
Barger said Tuesday's incident began as a "medical situation" and became a "security situation" as passengers and crewmembers restrained him.
"I've known the captain personally for a long period of time," Barger said of Osbon. "There's been no indication of this at all in the past."
Osbon's LinkedIn page describes him as a flight-standards captain who works in pilot recruitment and leadership development. He earned degrees from Hawthorne College in aeronautical physics and Carnegie Mellon University in physics.
Barger commended the company's workers and passengers for responding well to the incident.
"That was a tough situation at altitude," Barger said. "The customers and crew did a great job."
The incident was a rare one and frightening for passengers.
At the time, JetBlue said that the captain of Flight 191, which was diverted to Texas on Tuesday morning, had a "medical situation" and that an off-duty captain traveling on the flight entered the cockpit before the landing "and took over the duties of the ill crewmember once on the ground" in Amarillo.
Tony Antolino, a security executive from Rye, N.Y., said he realized something was wrong on the flight when Osbon left the cockpit and starting walking erratically through the cabin, drinking water and becoming agitated.
Antolino, 40, said he and several other passengers realized they needed to subdue him after the co-pilot locked Osbon from the cockpit. The captain started yelling about Iraq and Afghanistan, then told passengers to start reciting the Lord's prayer.
"That's when everybody just tackled him and took him down," said Antolino, an executive with a security firm headed to an industry conference. "We just physically stood on top of him until the flight was diverted and we landed in Amarillo."
Because the incident was so unusual, other pilots are waiting to hear more before passing judgement. "We know what happened," said Capt. Lee Collins, executive vice president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations. "We don't know why."
Heidi Karg, another passenger on the flight, told CNN that the man was shouting, "I need the code! Gimme the code! I need to get in there!"
"We heard the word 'bomb,' " Karg said. "We didn't know exactly what was going on."
Several passengers wrestled Osbon to the floor. David Gonzalez, 50, a former New York City Department of Corrections officer, told ABC News he put him in a choke hold.
"We got to get this plane down," Gonzalez, who was traveling to an security show, said he recalled thinking. "This guy is nuts."
Dave Funk, a retired Northwest Airlines captain now an aviation consultant with Laird & Associates, compares the co-pilot's decision to bar Osbon from the cockpit to what Captain "Sully" Sullenberger did when he landed a US Airways flight into New York's Hudson River with no lives lost.
"The first officer recognized the gravity of the situation and solved the problem," Funk said. "The co-pilot is a hero not because he landed the plane safely but because he created situation to do that."
Former pilot John Cox, president of Safety Operation Systems, said he could recall only a couple of incidents similar to Tuesday's in 40 years in commercial aviation.
Cox said the first officer could have landed the plane safely, even without assistance from the off-duty captain. Cox said crewmembers are trained to restrain combative passengers under a program called Crew Resource Management that could have applied to the pilot.
"The same training to restrain an abusive passenger that presents a physical threat could be utilized against a crewmember," Cox said. "It was great that there was another captain that was on the flight that could assist the first officer. Had he not been there, though, the first officer is completely capable and trained to land the aircraft. There was never a risk to the passengers."
Airline pilots must have a first-class medical certificate, which is renewed annually if the pilot is under 40 and every six months over that age, according to the FAA. As part of that process, the pilot must have a physical exam by an FAA-designated medical examiner, who assesses the pilot's psychological condition . The examiner can also order additional psychological testing.
Glenn Winn, a former airlines security chief who teaches at the University of Southern California, said the physical exams are very thorough. There is also random urinalysis. Airlines have numerous employee assistance programs to help deal with stress.
Bob Francis, former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said for the most part, the JetBlue incident had a positive resolution. "A problem in the cabin in the aircraft is a lot less serious than a problem in the cockpit," he said. "If there is a problem in the cockpit, you might end up losing the whole airplane."
No official mental health testing is required. Instead, pilots are trained to be on the lookout for any sign of mental distress among their peers. "The mental health side is constant monitoring from your co-workers," Funk said .
If someone's personality changes drastically, he said, "we're going to pull him aside. Management will get involved and not in a hostile fashion. We work with people."
"I'd say the system functioned properly," Funk said. "There's a reason we have two pilots. There's a reason we have flight attendants. … One healthy pilot on the flight deck who's qualified would have no problem landing the plane."
Antolino commended the co-pilot for recognizing Osbon's behavior, getting him out of the cockpit and landing the plane safely.
"The co-pilot from JetBlue was the real hero for having the sense to recognize that something was wrong here," Antolino said.
In August 2010, an upset JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, pulled the emergency chute on a flight from Pittsburgh International Airport to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. He went on the plane's public-address system, swore at a passenger who he claimed treated him rudely, grabbed a beer and slid down onto the tarmac.
Slater completed a court-ordered treatment program and was sentenced to one year of probation. "That was one moment; that was not indicative of who I am," Slater said at sentencing.
On March 9, American Airlines passengers were settling in for a trip from Dallas to Chicago when a flight attendant launched into a rant on the public-address system about 9/11 and the safety of the plane.
Several passengers wrestled the woman into a seat while the plane was on the ground, and the attendant was taken to Parkland Hospital for evaluation.
Randy Reep, who has spent 16 years as a commerical pilot, said crew members are much more stressed out these days. "I think its indicative of where we find ourselves as an industry,'' he said. "It is much more stressful in the sense that the job security isn't what it once was."
"What was once an extraordinarily glamorous job and arguably well paid is now an okay paid job and not as glamorous,'' Reep said. "You have to take your shoes off three or four times a day to go to your office. You're in charge of your airplane but you have someone go through your shaving kit before you even get on that plane."
Contributing: Nancy Trejos, Kevin Johnson, Gary Strauss and the Associated Presshttp://travel.usatoday.com/fli...t=Google+Feedfetcher