NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Federal authorities filed criminal charges against the JetBlue pilot who flipped out Tuesday during a flight from John F. Kennedy Airport bound for Las Vegas.
The FBI said pilot Clayton Osbon began frightening his first officer about three hours into the flight. That first officer said Osbon “began talking about religion, but his statements were not coherent.” On Wednesday he was charged with interfering with a flight crew.
WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond Reports
His crewmate in the cockpit said he grew alarmed when the pilot said “Things just don’t matter” and “We need to take a leap of faith.”
Osbon talked about sins in Las Vegas, saying at one point “We’re not going to Vegas.” Then Osbon began giving what the first officer described as a sermon.
After the co-pilot saw the pilot unnecessarily “fiddling” with the flight controls, and complaining to air traffic control about too much chatter, the co-pilot coaxed Osbon out of the cockpit, suggesting he go splash water in his face.
Once out of the cockpit, the co-pilot called for an off-duty pilot, who flying as a passenger, to come forward. They changed the combination on the cabin door lock.
After the pilot started beating on the cockpit door, he went up the aisle screaming.
“He’s getting more and more violent and now he’s starting to say ‘Pray to Jesus’ and he started yelling to the flight deck ‘Throttle to idle, throttle to idle, bring this plane down,'” passenger Marc Sellouk said, describing what happened inside the plane.
“He started ranting about Iraq, Iran — they’re going to take us down,” passenger Tony Antolino said. “Say the Lord’s Prayer, and at that point, we literally just tackled him to the ground and restrained him.”
The pilot had acted erratic, but the landlord of his Queens apartment said she never saw odd behavior.
“I love him. He’s a great guy. He never hurt nobody,” Wanda Serra said. “It’s unbelievable how something like this could happen.”
Neighbors outside the Ozone Park apartment called Osbon a good friend and an avid sportsman.
“He was in our house, watching the Giants. Even though he’s a Packer fan, he still rooted for the Giants,” Justin Capace said.
JetBlue said Wednesday that Osbon was being suspended pending further investigation. In a statement Tuesday, JetBlue described the incident as “a medical situation involving the captain.”
Osbon took and passed a required air medical examination just last December.
A doctor assessed his physical and mental health and filled out a Federal Aviation Administration medical form reviewing about two dozen specific issues, including mental disorders, alcohol dependence or abuse and suicide attempts.
“Pilots are required to disclose if they’ve seen a psychologist for grief, depression or any sort of thing that would have to do with mental health,” Dr. David Feldman told CBS 2’s Tony Aiello.
Feldman is one of just a handful of Manhattan doctors approved by the FAA to examine pilots. It’s serious business and Feldman said any aviation medical examiner would not hesitate to red flag a pilot for a medical or mental health issue.
“And then a decision needs to be made whether they can have a pilot certificate or whether it has to be deferred to the FAA for a decision,” Feldman said.
Feldman is also a licensed pilot and said he believes the FAA screening system is rigorous and effective.
Aviation expert Chesley Sullenberger says on top of doctors checking most pilots twice a year, co-workers are checking on them every day.
“You’re literally locked in this little cubicle with someone up to 15 or 16 hours a day. So every interaction, everything about them, you notice. They’re right there with you. If something is amiss, it’s going to be picked up on,” he said.
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