| 3.8°C Dublin

Airline chief backs bomb-rant pilot held down by passengers

THE JetBlue Airways' captain who sparked a major security alert on his plane is a "consummate professional", the company's CEO said.

JetBlue's boss Dave Barger told NBC's Today show that he had "personally known" Clayton Osbon for years and there was nothing in the captain's record to indicate he would be a risk.

Authorities have filed criminal charges against the pilot -- who yelled repeatedly incoherently about religion, the 2001 hijack attacks and pounded on a locked cockpit door before passengers subdued him. His New York-Las Vegas flight was diverted to Texas during the incident.

Fellow pilots, friends and Osbon's neighbours in Richmond Hill, Georgia, have said they were baffled by the midflight outburst. None of his co-workers recalled any previous health or mental problems.


Bill Curley, a friend of Osbon's for nearly 30 years, said Osbon was a Christian who had become "increasingly" religious but wasn't fanatical.

Neighbour Erich Thorp said: "I just don't know what happened. It's just not like Clayton. He was always happy and positive thinking."

In an interview given last year, Osbon said he first got in the cockpit when he was 6 or 7 years of age and had ambitions of becoming a motivational speaker.

His father was a pilot who died in a plane crash in 1995.

A pilot with JetBlue since 2000, Osbon's odd behaviour on Tuesday became increasingly erratic after the flight departed from New York, worrying his fellow crew members so much that they locked him out after he abruptly left the cockpit, according to an affidavit.

Osbon then started yelling about Jesus, al-Qa'idi and a possible bomb on board the aircraft, forcing passengers to tie him up with seat belt extenders and zip tie handcuffs for about 20 minutes until the plane landed.

However, passengers wrestled Osbon to the ground, and one female flight attendant's ribs were bruised during the struggle. No one was seriously hurt during the ordeal.