JetBlue pilot indictment offers view from cockpit: Osbon gave 'a sermon'

An indictment of Clayton Osbon, the JetBlue pilot restrained by passengers, reports erratic behavior in the cockpit, such as telling air traffic control to be quiet and gabbling nonsensical numbers. Osbon will undergo a mental competency exam.

By , Staff writer

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    JetBlue pilot Clayton Osbon (r.) is escorted to a waiting vehicle by FBI agents as he is released from The Pavilion at Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo earlier this month.
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The JetBlue pilot who was subdued by passengers on March 27 after he ran up and down the aisles of his aircraft shouting has been indicted by a grand jury for attempting to interfere with the performance of a flight crew.

Clayton Osbon, a 12-year pilot for JetBlue, is still reportedly being evaluated for mental competency to stand trial in Amarillo, Texas, where the copilot made a successful emergency landing of the Las Vegas-bound Airbus A320 airplane.

But trouble was brewing from the flight's beginning, according to court documents supporting the indictment, which offer a fuller look at what happened that day.

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First, Captain Osbon showed up late and missed the crew briefing at JFK Airport, where the flight originated, crew members told the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to Special Agent John Whitworth's affidavit in support of the indictment.

Initially, Osbon didn't exhibit any bizarre behavior, the affidavit states. But even as the flight climbed out of JFK's airspace, "Osbon said something to the first officer about being evaluated by someone."

At first, the flight officer wasn't sure what Osbon meant by that, but the pilot then began talking about his church and needing to "focus," the affidavit continues. After asking the first officer "to take the controls and work the radios, Osbon began talking about religion, but his statements were not coherent."

The first officer became concerned when Osbon said "things just don't matter," the affidavit says. Soon after, "Osbon yelled over the radio to air traffic control and instructed them to be quiet." He then turned off the radios in the jet and began dimming his monitors and "sternly admonished the first officer for trying to talk on the radio."

The first officer became "really worried when Osbon said, 'We need to take a leap of faith,' " he told the FBI. At that point, Osbon started trying to correlate completely unrelated numbers like different radio frequencies, and he talked about sins in Las Vegas. As some point, Osbon told the first officer, "We're not going to Vegas," and then began giving what the first officer described as "a sermon."

Worried, the first officer suggested to Osbon that they invite an off-duty JetBlue captain to the cockpit. But Osbon abruptly left the cockpit to go the forward lavatory – about 3-1/2 hours into the five-hour flight, the affidavit says.

Breaking company security protocol when he left the cockpit alarmed crew members just outside the cockpit door. When flight attendants asked if anything was wrong, Osbon grabbed a flight attendant's hands. He also banged on the door to the lavatory, telling the passenger inside that he needed to go to the bathroom, the affidavit says.

While Osbon was in the lavatory, the first officer told a flight attendant to bring the off-duty captain immediately to the cockpit. After that, Osbon "came out of the lavatory and began talking to the flight attendants, but was not making sense," mentioning at some point there being "150 souls on board," the affidavit says.

Osbon walked to the back of the aircraft – "on his way stopping to ask a male passenger if he had a problem" – before sprinting back to the forward galley, flight attendants close behind, chasing him."

At the cockpit door, Osbon began trying to enter his special code to reenter the cockpit – and banging on the door so hard that the first officer said he thought he might burst through the door. Inside, the first officer and the other captain locked the door. At that point, the first officer gave an order over the intercom to restrain Osbon. Already informed by flight attendants that their help might be needed, several passengers helped the flight attendants subdue Osbon, the affidavit said.

Along the way, the affidavit states, Osbon yelled jumbled comments about Jesus, 9/11, Iraq, Iran, and terrorism. He also yelled, "Guys, push it to full throttle."

Flight attendants decided not to have the passengers helping to restrain Osbon go back to their seats because "they felt they could not risk letting Osbon get up off the floor." The plane made an emergency landing in Amarillo with passengers still restraining Osbon in the galley, the affidavit concludes.

Aeronautical medical authorities told the Monitor that any investigation is likely to include a check on any medications he might have been be taking, since it's possible that Osbon, who had no earlier blots on his record, could have been experiencing hallucinatory side-effects.

Prosecutors and Osbon's attorney, E. Dean Roper, agreed to a mental competency exam after a government motion said events described in the FBI affidavit “establish a likelihood that Osbon may be suffering from a mental disease or defect," according to local news media reports. The outcome of that examination will determine whether Osbon understands the charge against him and can assist in his own defense.

A secretary answering the phone for Mr. Roper said he was declining to comment on the case.

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