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JetBlue pilot in court after midair rampage, with family support

April 03, 2012|By Tina Susman
(Michael Schumacher / Amarillo…)

New York —

A JetBlue Airways pilot has made his first court appearance for the midair meltdown on a New York-to-Las Vegas flight that forced his co-pilot to make an emergency landing. Prosecutors urged him to be held behind bars, even as his family said he never meant to hurt anyone.

The pilot, Clayton Osbon, appeared in an Amarillo, Texas, courtroom Monday with his hands cuffed behind his back, looking drawn but smiling at his wife, Connye Osbon, who was in court with JetBlue representatives. It was his first public appearance since he was removed from Flight 191 and taken to a hospital after being tied up with passengers' belts.

Osbon said "I do" when a judge asked him if he understood his rights and the charges against him. He is due back in federal court Thursday for a preliminary hearing on the charge of interfering with a flight crew during the March 27 flight.

In a statement released over the weekend, Connye Osbon defended her husband, whose frightening meltdown was caught on several passengers' video cameras. "It is our belief, as Clayton’s family, that while he was clearly distressed, he was not intentionally violent toward anyone," she said.

Addressing passengers and crew members who had to tackle Osbon as he rampaged down the aisle and screamed incoherently, she added: "We know you were placed in an awful situation and we appreciate your ability to respond professionally.”

Osbon, 49, a 12-year veteran of JetBlue, was ordered held without bond at least until Thursday's hearing. The charge of interfering with a flight crew carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Osbon, who lives in Georgia but flies out of New York, began displaying unusual behavior minutes after Flight 191 lifted off from John F. Kennedy International Airport en route to Las Vegas, according to his co-pilot and other crew members.Their account was dramatically outlined in an affidavit filed by investigators last week.

The situation culminated in a brawl in the passenger cabin more than three hours into the flight, with the co-captain locking Osbon out of the cockpit and arranging for an emergency landing while crew members and passengers restrained the pilot.

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tina.susman@latimes.com

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