March 29 (Bloomberg) -- The JetBlue Airways Corp. captain whose erratic behavior spurred his co-pilot to bar the cockpit door was charged with interfering with the plane’s flight crew and was held for observation.
Clayton Frederick Osbon, 49, could be sentenced to as long as 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for his actions aboard a New York-to-Las Vegas flight, U.S. Attorney Sarah R. Saldana in Dallas, said yesterday in a statement.
Osbon doesn’t have a date for a first court appearance in Amarillo, Texas, prosecutor Christy Lee Drake said by phone.
JetBlue has secured attorneys for Osbon and they are in Amarillo, Jenny Dervin, an airline spokeswoman, said today. The carrier earlier suspended Osbon from duty pending the conclusion of an investigation, she said.
Osbon is being evaluated at a medical facility in Amarillo, where the plane he was piloting on March 27 was diverted after he turned off its radios, dimmed his monitors and told the first officer on board that “we need to take a leap of faith,” according to court documents.
After the plane left John F. Kennedy International Airport, Osbon “started trying to correlate completely unrelated numbers like different radio frequencies, and he talked about sins in Las Vegas,” according to court filings. “At some point, Osbon told the first officer, ‘We’re not going to Vegas.’ He then began giving what the first officer described as a sermon,” according to the filing.
Wrestled to Floor
Flight 191’s co-pilot locked out Osbon when he left the flight deck, prosecutors said. Passengers wrestled him to the floor after he shouted and banged on the cockpit door, the Federal Aviation Administration said. He was yelling about Jesus, Sept. 11, Iraq, Iran and terrorists, prosecutors said. The jet landed safely in Amarillo.
Allison Steinberg, a spokeswoman for JetBlue, said Osbon is a flight standards officer for the New York-based airline, who instructs, evaluates and mentors officers on the airline’s twin-engine Airbus SAS A320s.
A phone number listed for Osbon in Savannah, Georgia, wouldn’t accept messages.
The airline declined to release further personal details on Osbon or the co-pilot who diverted the plane to Amarillo, assisted by an off-duty JetBlue pilot. The crew of Flight 191 was given time off, said Steinberg, declining to elaborate.
JetBlue Chief Executive Officer Dave Barger said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show that the airline will review its pilot screening process, adding that he is “very confident in our procedures and the industry’s procedures.”
FAA rules require that airline pilots under 40 receive a medical checkup once a year and older ones every six months, according to the agency’s website. The exam includes questions about mental health.
The A320 was about halfway into the journey of about 2,250 miles (3,620 kilometers) and cruising at about 34,000 feet when the incident occurred, based on data compiled by FlightAware.com, a real-time flight tracking site. On board were 135 passengers and five crew members.
“It seemed like something was off with him,” Gabriel Schonzeit, a Flight 191 passenger, said in a video posted on the website of the Amarillo Globe-News newspaper. “Within a short period of time, he started screaming about al-Qaeda and a bomb on the plane and Iraq and Iran and how we’re all going down.”
As the co-pilot declared a medical emergency and diverted to Amarillo, the plane descended more than 28,100 feet in about 13 minutes, more than twice as fast as the approach that would have been used to Las Vegas, the data show.
“We’re going to need authorities and medical assist to meet us at the airplane,” Flight 191 told Amarillo air traffic control in a recording posted on the website LiveATC.net
Law enforcement officials “secured the pilot without incident” after landing, the FAA said in a statement.
The plane landed in Amarillo at about 10:11 a.m. local time. It left New York at 7:28 a.m.
The case is U.S. v. Osbon, 2:12-MJ-22, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Amarillo).
To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com