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Video: Meltdown pilot faces 20-year term if convicted

POLICE have filed criminal charges against Captain Frederick Osbon, the JetBlue Airways pilot who had a tantrum mid-flight, according to witnesses, and had to be restrained by passengers.

Flight 191 was diverted to Amarillo, Texas, on Tuesday, following what authorities described as erratic behaviour by Capt Osbon, who allegedly ran through the cabin before passengers tackled him in the galley.

A flight attendant suffered bruised ribs, officials said.

The US Justice Department filed a complaint charging Capt Osbon with interfering with the crew.

It is unusual for a commercial airline pilot to be charged in this way, and a US official said he could not recall a similar case in recent years.

Capt Osbon (49) remains in a guarded facility at a hospital in Amarillo, and he faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The 12-year JetBlue veteran was suspended while the FBI and aviation authorities investigate the incident.

A JetBlue spokeswoman said the company was cooperating fully with authorities and would conduct its own investigation as well.

An affidavit by an FBI agent shows trouble started before the Airbus A320 took off from New York City's John F Kennedy International Airport enroute to Las Vegas with 141 passengers and crew. Capt Osbon was late arriving at the airport, and missed the routine pre-flight crew briefing, agent John Whitworth said in the affidavit.

Mr Whitworth said problems continued as the plane took off.

"Capt Osbon talked about his church and needed to focus," Mr Whitworth said in the affidavit. "Capt Osbon began talking about religion, but his statements were not coherent."

The co-pilot grew nervous when Capt Osbon told them that "things just don't matter" and began yelling over the plane's radio system, telling air traffic controllers to "be quiet".

"The First Officer became really worried when Osbon said, 'We need to take a leap of faith'," Mr Whitworth said in the document.

"Osbon started trying to correlate completely unrelated numbers and he talked about the sins in Las Vegas. At one point, Osbon told the (first officer), 'We're not going to Vegas', and began giving what was described as a sermon." Osbon yelled jumbled comments about "Jesus, September 11th, Iraq, Iran and terrorists" while passengers converged on him, the affidavit said.

An off-duty pilot aboard the plane took Capt Osbon's place at the controls as the plane made an emergency landing.

The Federal Aviation Authority said it was investigating the JetBlue incident.

It is not yet known what may have caused the outbursts, officials said.

Irish Independent