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Charge brought against JetBlue pilot Clayton Osbon after mid-flight outburst (+video)

Clayton Osbon, the JetBlue pilot whose erratic behavior mid-flight led the co-pilot to lock him out of the cockpit, was charged Wednesday with 'interfering' with crew instructions. What led a 'consummate professional' to come unglued remains a mystery to the public. 

By Staff writer / March 28, 2012

Emergency workers tend to a JetBlue captain that had a 'medical situation' during a Las Vegas-bound flight from JFK International airport, on March 27, in Amarillo, Texas.

Steve Douglas/AP

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The JetBlue pilot whose erratic behavior – including shouting, banging on the cockpit door, and running down the aisle yelling that the plane was going to crash – led the co-pilot to lock him out of the cockpit mid-flight on Tuesday is a seasoned airline pilot who has had a passion for flying since he was in college.

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Passengers aboard an early morning flight bound from New York to Las Vegas first noticed something wrong when the plane's top pilot came out of the cockpit, didn't close the door and tried to force his way into an occupied bathroom.

Airline officials characterize the incident as a "medical emergency;" outside observers have called it a panic attack. The actual reason for pilot Clayton Osbon's strange outburst, however, remains a mystery, at least to the public. 

"He started screaming about Al Qaeda and possibly a bomb on the plane and Iraq and Iran and about how we were all going down," passenger Gabriel Schonzeit, who was sitting in the third row, told the Amarillo Globe-News.

On Wednesday, Mr. Osbon, a 12-year pilot for JetBlue, was charged with “interfering with crew-member instructions” and remains in a medical facility in Amarillo, Texas, where the co-pilot landed the Las Vegas-bound plane, says a JetBlue spokesman. JetBlue also suspended him from flying "pending further investigation," CNN reported Wednesday. 

JetBlue's chief executive officer, Dave Barger, has described Osbon a “consummate professional” with no history of trouble.

"What happened at altitude is we had a medical situation," Mr. Barger told NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday. Then, he added, "It became a security situation."

The flight's co-pilot reportedly found Captain Osbon's behavior to be erratic during the flight, and he coaxed Osbon to consult with other crew on board – then locked him out of the cockpit and later made the unscheduled landing with the aid of another pilot who was traveling on the flight. At least five passengers held down the struggling Osbon on the floor.

The account does not jibe with anything that is publicly known about Osbon, a seasoned veteran with a flying career dating back to 1989. Osbon, a resident of Richmond Hill, Ga., an affluent community about 20 minutes southwest of Savannah, Ga., was apparently among the best of the best to fly JetBlue's big jets. A "flight standards captain," he held a bachelor's of science degree in aeronautical physics and flight ratings from Hawthorne College and Carnegie Mellon University, according to a magazine that profiled Osbon last year.

A profile published in Richmond Hill Reflections, a glossy magazine featuring the people and homes of individuals from the well-heeled community, portrays a man devoted to flying, family, and fun – and who loves animals and playing Wii bowling.

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