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JetBlue Pilot Charged with Interference with a Flight Crew

AMARILLO, TX—A federal criminal complaint was filed in the Northern District of Texas today that charges JetBlue pilot Clayton Frederick Osbon, 49, with interference with a flight crew, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Sarah R. Saldaña.

According to the affidavit filed with the complaint, Osbon, a pilot working JetBlue Flight 191 from New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport to Las Vegas, according to witnesses, arrived at JFK later than he should have for the flight and missed the crew briefing. As the plane was leaving JFK and climbing in altitude in its scheduled five-hour flight, Osbon said something to the first officer (FO) about being evaluated by someone, but the FO did not know what he meant. Osbon then talked about his church and the need to “focus” and asked the FO to take the controls and work the radios. Osbon began talking about religion, but, according to the FO, his statements were not coherent.

The affidavit goes on to say that the FO became concerned when Osbon said “things just don’t matter.” According to the FO, Osbon yelled over the radio to air traffic control and instructed them to be quiet. Osbon turned off the radios in the aircraft, dimmed his monitors, and sternly admonished the FO for trying to talk on the radio. When Osbon said “we need to take a leap of faith,” the FO stated that he became very worried. Osbon told the FO that “we’re not going to Vegas” and began giving what the FO described as a sermon.

The affidavit states that the FO suggested to Osbon that they invite the off-duty JetBlue captain who was on board the flight into the cockpit; however, Osbon abruptly left the cockpit to go to the forward lavatory, alarming the rest of the flight crew when he didn’t follow the company’s protocol for leaving the cockpit. When flight attendants met Osbon and asked him what was wrong, he became aggressive and banged on the door of the occupied lavatory, saying he needed to get inside.

While Osbon was in the lavatory, at the request of the FO, a flight attendant brought the off-duty captain to the cockpit, where he assisted the FO with the remainder of the flight. When Osbon exited the lavatory, he began talking to flight attendants, mentioning “150 souls on board.” Osbon walked to the rear of the aircraft but along the way stopped and asked a male passenger if he had a problem. Osbon then sprinted back to the forward galley and tried to enter his code to re-enter the cockpit. When the FO announced over the public address system an order to restrain Osbon, several passengers assisted and brought Osbon down in the forward galley, where he continued to yell comments about Jesus, September 11, Iraq, Iran, and terrorists.

The FO declared an emergency and diverted the aircraft to Amarillo, landing with passengers still restraining Osbon in the galley. Osbon was removed from the aircraft and taken to a facility in the Northwest Texas Healthcare System in Amarillo for medical evaluation, where he remains.

A federal complaint is a written statement of the essential facts of the offenses charged and must be made under oath before a magistrate judge. A defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The maximum penalty, upon conviction, for interference with a flight crew is a 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas has 30 days to present the matter to a grand jury for indictment.

The ongoing investigation is being led by the FBI with the assistance of JetBlue, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Amarillo Police Department, and the Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christy L. Drake, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Amarillo, is in charge of the prosecution.

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