A JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU) captain began acting erratically during a flight from New York today and was locked out of the cockpit by his co-pilot before the plane was diverted to Texas, federal officials said.
The captain had to be subdued by passengers when he tried to re-enter the cockpit after briefly stepping out, the Federal Aviation Administration said in an e-mailed statement. The Las Vegas-bound jet landed in Amarillo, Texas, where the captain was taken to a hospital for evaluation, the FAA said.
“The co-pilot became concerned that the captain exhibited erratic behavior during the flight,” the FAA said. Law enforcement officials “secured the pilot without incident” after landing.
Flight 191 was about halfway into a journey of roughly 2,250 miles (3,620 kilometers) when the incident occurred, based on an e-mailed statement from Allison Steinberg, a JetBlue spokeswoman. An off-duty pilot entered the cockpit and assisted the co-pilot as the twin-engine Airbus SAS A320 touched down safely with 135 passengers and five on-duty crew members.
“I can’t think of another time in my 26-year airline career where I’ve ever heard of something like this happening,” Lee Collins, executive vice president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations trade group in Washington, said in a phone interview. JetBlue pilots aren’t unionized.
Laurie Dhue, a former Fox News employee who was on the flight, told Fox’s Shepard Smith in an interview that the captain had a “breakdown of some kind.”
“He was running down the aisle screaming, pounding on the cockpit door, saying ‘Let me in, let me in, pull the throttle back, we got to get this plane down,’” Dhue said. “Several huge men who happened to be sitting in front of the plane rushed down the aisle, wrestled him to the ground and got him subdued pretty darn quick.”
Steinberg said JetBlue wasn’t identifying any of its employees on the jet. The airline sent another plane to collect the travelers and continue the flight to Las Vegas, she said.
New York Departure
Flight 191 left New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport at 7:28 a.m., more than a half-hour after its scheduled departure. It landed about 10:11 a.m. local time at Amarillo’s Rick Husband International Airport, about 11 minutes after the co-pilot decided to divert there, Steinberg said.
The patient from the airport incident was at Northwest Texas Healthcare System, said Caytie Martin, a spokeswoman for the Amarillo hospital, who declined to comment further.
FAA rules require that airline pilots receive a medical check once a year if under 40 and every six months if older, according to the agency’s website. The exam includes questions about mental health, according to the agency.
Today’s incident was the second flight in less than a month disrupted by an employee at a U.S. airline.
An American Airlines (AMR1) plane had to return to an airport gate on March 9 after a flight attendant began ranting about a possible crash and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She initially was restrained by passengers and later was handcuffed and put in leg restraints by officers when she resisted being taken off the plane at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
The woman, 43, who was taken to a hospital for evaluation of a “mental episode,” had stopped taking medication for bipolar disorder, according to an airport police report. A second flight attendant was injured in the incident.