Flight terror as screaming pilot locked out of cockpit
Published 29/03/2012 | 05:00
SHOCKED passengers have described a chaotic mid-flight scene in which a pilot locked out of his cockpit banged on the door and screamed.
The JetBlue captain's co-workers tried to calm him on Tuesday as he became more jittery, coaxing him to the back of the plane while making sure that he didn't get near the plane's controls.
Then he sprinted up the cabin's aisle ranting about a bomb, screaming "They're going to take us down!" and urging passengers to pray.
"Nobody knew what to do because he is the captain of the plane," said passenger Don Davis. "You're not just going to jump up and attack the captain."
But four men did tackle the pilot, using seat belt extenders and zip-tie handcuffs to restrain and pin him to the floor for more than 20 minutes while the co-pilot and an off-duty pilot who was aboard landed the plane in Amarillo, Texas. JetBlue yesterday confirmed the pilot's name, Clayton Osbon.
JetBlue CEO and president Dave Barger said last night that Mr Osbon was a "consummate professional" whom he had personally known for years. There was nothing in the pilot's record to indicate he would be a risk on a flight, Mr Barger said. It was not clear if Mr Osbon would face any criminal or civil charges.
Elton Stafford, who lives across the street from Mr Osbon in Georgia, said he was shocked at the outburst.
"Clayton's a great guy. Loves to have a good time, loves the outdoors. He just loves people," Mr Stafford said. "They're the kind of neighbours that everybody wants."
But passengers were shaken.
"Clearly, he had an emotional or mental type of breakdown," said passenger Tony Antolino, who sat in the 10th row and tackled the pilot when he tried to re-enter the cockpit.
"He became almost delusional," Mr Antolino said after arriving in Las Vegas some six hours behind schedule.
Passenger Josh Redick said the captain seemed "irate" and was "spouting off about Afghanistan and souls and al-Qa'ida".
The airline described the incident as a "medical situation" involving the captain of JetBlue Airways Flight 191 from New York's John F Kennedy International Airport. Airline officials said he was taken to a hospital.
The outburst came weeks after an American Airlines flight attendant was taken off a plane for rambling about 9/11 and her fears the plane would crash.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the co-pilot had locked the cockpit. An off-duty airline captain who was a passenger entered the flight deck and took over the duties of the ill captain before landing in Amarillo.
The FBI is coordinating an investigation with airport police, Amarillo police, the FAA and the Transportation Safety Administration.