AUSTIN, Texas, (Reuters) – U.S. authorities filed criminal charges yesterday against a JetBlue pilot who screamed over the radio, pounded on the door of the cockpit and was tackled by passengers during a chaotic flight from New York forced to make an emergency landing in Texas.
Flight 191 was diverted to Amarillo, Texas, on Tuesday, following what federal authorities described as erratic behaviour by captain Clayton Frederick Osbon, who passengers said was restrained after he pounded on the locked cockpit door.
A U.S. attorney in Texas filed a complaint charging Osbon with interfering with the crew. It is unusual for a commercial airline pilot to be charged in this way, and a U.S. official said he could not recall a similar case in recent years.
Osbon, 49, remains in a guarded facility at a hospital in Amarillo, and U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana said he faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Osbon was suspended while the FBI investigates the incident, the airline said yesterday.
“He has been removed from all active duty and responsibilities pending further investigation,” JetBlue spokeswoman Tamara Young said, declining to comment further on that investigation. JetBlue, which had said yesterday the flight was diverted due to a “medical situation” involving the captain, said Osbon was a 12-year veteran of the airline.
An affidavit by an FBI agent shows that trouble for the flight started before the Airbus A320 took off from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. Osbon was late arriving at the airport, and missed the routine pre-flight crew briefing, agent John Whitworth said in the affidavit.
Whitworth said problems continued as the Airbus A320 was taking off. “Osbon talked about his church and needed to focus,” Whitworth said in the affidavit. “Osbon began talking about religion, but his statements were not coherent.”
The rest of the flight crew began to get nervous when 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,” according to Whitworth’s account in the affidavit.