By Danny Robbins and Russ Bynum/The Associated Press
RICHMOND HILL, Ga. — A JetBlue Airways captain who sprinted through the cabin of a Las Vegas-bound flight screaming about terrorists, Jesus and Sept. 11 was charged Wednesday with interfering with a flight crew, federal authorities said.
Captain Clayton Osbon told his co-pilot that “things just don’t matter” shortly after JetBlue Flight 191 from New York departed Tuesday, according to an affidavit. Osbon, who was ultimately tackled by passengers while the plane made an emergency landing in Texas, told his co-pilot that “we’re not going to Vegas” and began what was described as a sermon, the court documents said.
“The (first officer) became really worried when Osbon said ‘we need to take a leap of faith,’” according to the sworn affidavit given by an FBI agent. “Osbon started trying to correlate completely unrelated numbers like different radio frequencies, and he talked about sins in Las Vegas.”
Osbon left the cockpit soon after and tensions on the plane began to escalate, according to witness accounts compiled by investigators. Osbon, described by neighbors in Georgia as tall and muscular, “aggressively” grabbed the hands of flight attendant who confronted him and later sprinted down the cabin while being chased.
From inside the locked cockpit, which Osbon tried to re-enter by banging on the door, the first officer gave an order through the intercom to restrain Osbon, according to the affidavit. Passengers wrestled Osbon to the ground, and one female flight attendant’s ribs were bruised during the struggle. No one on board was seriously hurt.
The charges against Osbon, 49, were filed in Texas. He was being held Wednesday at Northwest Texas Healthcare System in Amarillo and remains under a medical evaluation.
Under federal law, a conviction for interference with a flight crew or attendants can bring up to 20 years in prison. The offense is defined as assaulting or intimidating the crew, interfering with its duties or diminishes its ability to do operate the plane.
JetBlue spokeswoman Allison Steinberg said earlier Wednesday that Osbon had been suspended pending a review of the flight.
Osbon has been a pilot for JetBlue since 2000. The company’s CEO and president Dave Barger told NBC’s “Today” show that Osbon is a “consummate professional” whom he has “personally known” for years.
Fellow pilots and Osbon’s neighbors in an affluent waterfront subdivision in Richmond Hill, Ga., said they were baffled by the midflight outburst. None recalled any previous health or mental problems.
Erich Thorp, a neighbor who recently helped Osbon put a fence in his yard, described Osbon as affable and outgoing, standing about 6-foot-4 with a crew cut and a muscular build.
Passengers said they used seat belt extenders and zip tie handcuffs to restrain Osbon for more than 20 minutes while the plane landed.
“Nobody knew what to do because he is the captain of the plane,” said Don Davis, the owner of a Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based wireless broadband manufacturer who was traveling to Sin City for a security industry conference.
“You’re not just going to jump up and attack the captain,” Davis said.
Barger said there is nothing in the captain’s record to indicate he would be a risk on a flight.
“I just don’t know what happened. It’s just not like Clayton,” his neighbor Thorp said. “He was always happy and positive thinking. He never complained about anything.”
Bynum reported from Richmond Hill, Ga., Robbins from Dallas. Associated Press writers Paul Weber in San Antonio, Samantha Bomkamp in New York, Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, Texas; and Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas contributed to this report.