NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – JetBlue says the pilot who had an apparent meltdown during a flight Tuesday from JFK to Las Vegas has been suspended pending further investigation.
JetBlue spokeswoman Allison Steinberg said Wednesday that the pilot, 49-year-old Clayton Osbon of Georgia, was taken off active duty as federal officials investigate Tuesday’s mid-air incident aboard JetBlue Flight 191.
1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports
Passengers wrestled Osbon to the ground after he began ranting about Afghanistan, terrorism and bombs as a co-pilot shut him out of the cockpit and took command of the flight.
Passengers say they first noticed something wrong when Osbon came out of the cockpit, didn’t close the door and tried to force his way into an occupied bathroom.
The captain’s co-workers tried to calm him as he became more jittery, coaxing him to the back of the plane while making sure, above all, that he didn’t get back near the plane’s controls.
What happened next was then caught on camera as the captain had to be restrained by passengers after he began walking the aisle, screaming “They’re going to take us down!” and urging confused passengers to pray.
“He was yelling and screaming, seemed like he was having a panic attack,” passenger Grant Heppes said.
Four men tackled the Osbon, pinning him to the floor for more than 20 minutes.
“I mean, when we took him down, he was screaming about ‘Say your prayers, say your prayers,’” described passenger Paul Babakitis, a retired NYPD sergeant who helped subdue the pilot. “He just clearly demonstrated the level that he was not coherent and not realizing what he’s doing or saying.”
The flight was full of law enforcement officers and security professionals, all headed to a conference in Las Vegas and say their instincts kicked in.
“I think myself and the four other guys that jumped on him kind of all felt at the same time enough is enough and we need to do something,” said passenger Tony Antolino who was sitting in the 10th row of the plane and helped tackle the pilot. “We cannot allow him to gain access back into the cockpit.”
The co-pilot and an off-duty pilot who was aboard, landed the plane in Amarillo, Texas. Osbon was arrested and taken off the plane, handcuffed to a wheelchair and rolled to an ambulance for a medical evaluation.
Captain Chesley Sullenberger called the co-pilot a hero for noticing a problem.
“You’re literally locked in this little cubicle with someone 15 or 16 hours a day, so every interaction, everything about them you notice,” he said.
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Osbon is a veteran in the air, He’s been a pilot at JetBlue since 2000 and is well-respected by colleagues and friends. His actions, they say, are completely out of character.
In a statement, JetBlue described the incident as “a medical situation involving the captain.”
The FBI was coordinating an investigation with the airport police, Amarillo police, the FAA and the Transportation Safety Administration, said agency spokeswoman Lydia Maese in Dallas.
It’s not clear if Osbon will face any criminal or civil charges for disrupting the flight.
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