Jet Blue Flight 191 from New York taxis on the runway after landing at McCarran… (Julie Jacobson/Associated…)
New York — Federal authorities on Wednesday charged a Jet Blue pilot whose midair meltdown on a New York-to-Las Vegas flight forced his co-pilot to lock him out of the cockpit and make an emergency landing while passengers restrained the distraught captain.
The pilot, Clayton Osbon, was charged with interfering with a flight crew by the U.S. attorney in Amarillo, Texas, where the plane made its emergency landing, the Associated Press and Amarillo.com reported.
A Jet Blue spokeswoman, Sharon Jones, told The Times that Osbon, who lives in Georgia but is based in New York City, had been taken off duty pending an investigation into Tuesday's incident on Flight 191. The airline refused to comment on whether Osbon would continue to receive his salary during the suspension, but Jones said that "he is still employed with Jet Blue."
Osbon's rant began when the flight was more than three hours into its journey. Witnesses, several of whom recorded video of the incident, said the pilot became enraged after he was locked out of the cockpit by his co-pilot, who had become worried by the captain's erratic behavior. A passenger on the jet who was an off-duty pilot entered the cockpit and helped land the plane as several passengers used their belts and plastic handcuffs to hold down Osbon. Osbon was taken off the jet in Amarillo and hospitalized.
Jet Blue said the FBI was investigating the incident, which it said appeared to be more the result of a medical issue than security-related. "As the events unfolded, it became clear that security was also an element of this episode, but not the overriding issue in our opinion. The FBI has said terrorism is not a factor in this incident," the airline said on its blog, Blue Tales.
Jet Blue noted that it was the first airline to install bulletproof cockpit doors, which are "coded and virtually impenetrable. When the flight crew inside the deck close and lock that door, no one can get in."
It expressed gratitude to the customers who helped pin down Osbon and said all the passengers on board the jet, which eventually landed in Las Vegas after its unscheduled stop in Amarillo, would be refunded their fares and given a voucher for twice the value of their original tickets.
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