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New details emerge about Jet Blue pilot's midair meltdown

March 28, 2012|Tina Susman

New York — A Jet Blue pilot who began ranting and acting erratically as his flight headed from New York to Las Vegas -- forcing the co-pilot to lock him out of the cockpit and make an emergency landing -- has been described as a seemingly content family man who once hoped to be an astronaut.

Jet Blue identified the pilot as Clayton Osbon, who lives in Georgia but who maintains an apartment in the New York City borough of Queens because his flying base is New York. In a statement Tuesday night, it said that the captain of Flight 191 was receiving medical treatment.

The flight landed in Las Vegas at 4:13 p.m. local time Tuesday after initially making an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas, where the captain was removed from the flight after having been tackled by passengers and strapped down with their belts. "While we don't know what led to the incident, what we can verify is that the pilot in command elected to divert to Amarillo to ensure the captain received proper medical attention, and we know the captain was then transferred to a medical facility," Jet Blue said.

Video posted on YouTube clearly showed the pilot in the Airbus 320's aisle as he first spoke to flight attendants who had been alerted to a problem by the co-pilot. The co-pilot managed to persuade the pilot to leave the cockpit, then quickly locked him out of the cockpit and changed the security code to prevent the captain from re-entering.

As the co-pilot declared an emergency and made plans to land in Amarillo, chaos erupted in the jet's cabin, according to passengers' accounts and video taken by several people on board. "The pilot ran to the cockpit door, began banging on it and said something to the effect of, 'We've gotta pull the throttle back. We've gotta get this plane down,'" said Laurie Dhue, on CNN.

At one point, the pilot is heard screaming, "Oh my God! I'm so distraught! We've got Israel, we've got Iraq..."

Passengers leaped on top of the pilot after a flight attendant called for help; according to the New York ABC affiliate, many of those on board were security professionals headed to Las Vegas for a convention, which enabled them to effectively use a choke-hold to subdue the captain and restrain him for more than 20 minutes.

In Queens, where the pilot rents a room to use before and after flights, neighbors were shocked. His landlord, Wanda Serra, broke down in tears when told that Osbon was the man on the video. "I feel like he's a son," she told ABC, describing him as a "beautiful man." Others in the area agreed.

"Things happen, but I would never have expected it from a guy like that, something got to him," said John Morganti, a resident.

According to a 2011 profile published about Osbon in a Georgia magazine,  he received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical physics and all of his flight ratings from Hawthorne College and Carnegie Mellon University. Clayton considered joining the Navy to pay for postgraduate studies and hoped to fly the F-14 jets made famous in the movie "Top Gun"; but he said an astigmatism in his right eye ruled him out.

"That broke my heart a little bit,” he told the interviewer, Chrstine Lucas, who expressed surprise at what had happened. "My opinion is that someone who would rant would be in a discontented position; he didn't strike me that way at all -- he seemed very content about his life and where it was going. He didn't seem at all unhappy," she told Fox news.

This is the second troubling incident involving a flight crew member on a major airline this month. On March 9, an American Airlines jet returned to the gate in Dallas after an attendant let out a bloodcurdling scream and began ranting about a crash as the plane prepared to take off. In 2010, Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater gained folk-hero status after he cussed out a passenger while the plane was on a runway at JFK airport in New York, then grabbed a beer, deployed an emergency chute, and slid down it.

Slater was arrested and charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. Slater, who left Jet Blue, later apologized, blaming his rant on stress, and paid restitution after pleading guilty to lesser charges.

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