The headlines have been full of the story of the Captain of a JetBlue flight who panicked on board and was locked out of the cockpit. In the interests of not arguing with everyone I meet, here is a run-down of what happened, unembellished by media excitements.
Let’s get this out of the way first:
No, there is no evidence at this time that the Captain was on drugs, was known to have a brain tumour, was a terrorist himself or was an alien from Mars. Please disregard any and all headlines of this nature. No, it is not true that “a passenger had to land the plane” – an off-duty Captain was travelling on the flight and assisted the First Officer, who was the Pilot in Command throughout.
Here’s what we know so far, primarily based on the federal affidavit released on Wednesday.
The captain of JetBlue Flight 191 was Clayton Osbon, 49 with twelve years service and described by the president of JetBlue as an old friend and consummate professional. He has no history of problems.
He was featured in Richmond Hill Reflections magazine last year.
He’s flown in 35 different types of airplanes in general aviation and is approaching eighteen thousand hours. It was his job at Net Jets, where he was hired in January of ‘94, which allowed him to fly the Gulfstream IV, the predecessor of the G450 and G550, all over the world. During this time he lived, for a few years, in Lisbon, Portugal and Lyon, France.
…At home, Clayton is working on leadership coursework. “Putting it down on eight and a half by eleven sheets of paper,” he says. He wants to be a motivational speaker down the road. “It starts with a greater enhanced knowledge of one’s being…you know, I’d like to think the world is more than just getting up in the morning, making a cup of coffee, going to work, coming home, kissing your wife good-night and going to bed.”
Flight 191 was an Airbus A320 in good condition. The first officer was Jason Dowd.
On Tuesday, Captain Osbon was late arriving for the flight and missed the routine crew briefing. The flight departed half an hour late. However, there is no evidence that he was agitated or acting bizarrely at that point.
At 07:28 EST, JetBlue Flight 191 departed New York for its 06:55 scheduled flight to Las Vegas. There were 135 passengers on board, many of whom were attending a security convention in Las Vegas. As a result, there was a large number of police officers and prison guards on the flight.
As they were climbing out of JFK, the captain referred to being evaluated by someone. First Officer Dowd did not know what that meant. Captain Osbon spoke about religion and the FO stated that his statements were not coherent. He became concerned when the the captain stated that “things just don’t matter.”
Osbon apparently spoke on the radio, telling the air traffic controllers to be quiet. He then turned off the radios and admonished his First Officer for trying to use the radio. I’ve not been able to obtain the ATC recordings of this interaction.
Osbon continued to speak whilst dimming all the instruments and made a number of comments which concerned his first officer, including “we need to take a leap of faith” and “We’re not going to Vegas.”
First Officer Dowd said that Osbon tried to “correlate completely unrelated numbers like different radio frequencies” and then began a type of sermon.
An off-duty JetBlue captain was a passenger on the flight and at about 3½ hours into the flight, the FO suggested that they invite him to the cockpit.
Captain Osbon ignored the suggestion and left the cockpit, breaking JetBlue procedure, to use the toilet at the front of the plane. He found it was occupied and banged on the door, shouting that he needed to go.
First Officer Dowd alerted the flight attendants to the situation and asked them to bring the off-duty captain to the cockpit. The First Officer then locked the cockpit door and changed the security code.
Osbon paced the length of the plane, speaking about 150 souls on board, religion, September 11 and terrorists. He appears to have walked to the back of the plane and then shouted “guys, push it to full throttle” while sprinting back to the front of the plane with the flight attendants giving chase. The Flight Officer announced over the PA system that Osbon should be restrained.
Osbon then tried to re-enter the cockpit and realised he was locked out. That’s apparently when he began to scream that the plane was going down. You can the captain at the beginning of this passenger video:
Flight attendants and several passengers pulled him away from the cockpit door and held him down in the forward galley.
The passengers were justifiably confused.
Passengers who were on the plane described a chaotic mid-flight scene in which a man in a JetBlue uniform, apparently locked out of the cockpit, began banging on the door and demanding to be let inside. Passengers subdued him.
“People behind me, a bunch of big guys, started going up there and trying to help, and we found out that the guy banging was actually the pilot, and he was trying to get into the cockpit because the other co-pilot had locked him out,” passenger Grant Heppes told Reuters.
“Everybody seemed pretty nervous,” he said. “Nobody was sure that was going on.”
Several male passengers were able to subdue him in the forward galley and restrained him using seat belt extensions and zip-tie handcuffs. A passenger said that in the end there were six men holding him down, with more congregating in the aisle ready to jump on the pilot if he broke free.
Passengers described Osbon as a large man, standing more than 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighing roughly 250 pounds. They said that when they tried to apply zip-ties to his wrists, he snapped the restraints, forcing passengers to take off their belts to bind his arms. A passenger said they held Osbon for roughly 30 minutes as the plane diverted to Amarillo.
The ATC recording of the flight coming into Amarillo, Texas has been posted on YouTube. It is interesting in that it is unremarkable. The First Officer is calm and matter-of-fact as he diverts the plane and declares an emergency.
Flight 191 landed in Amarillo at 16:13 local time on Tuesday in Amarillo.
The flight attendants elected to have the aircraft land without having the assisting passengers return to their seats, because the flight attendants felt they could not risk letting Osbon get up off the floor. The aircraft landed with passengers still restraining Osbon in the galley.
JetBlue stated that they are sorry that the passengers were put into the situation but are very thankful for their efforts. “What the customers did to help our inflight crew was amazing and we really appreciate their efforts, and also the cooperation of everyone on board – it contributed to the safe landing.”
Clayton Osbon has been charged with interfering with the duties of the flight crew which can bring a sentence of up to twenty years in prison. He is currently in a guarded facility at a hospital in Amarillo.
The NTSB have the cockpit recordings and are investigating.
On behalf of the Crew of Flight 191, we would like to express our appreciation for the public’s kind words and well wishes for the crew. We understand and appreciate everyone’s desire to hear directly from the crew regarding their experience, but they have decided to decline all media opportunities at this time in order to spend time with their families.
I’m just glad that the airline isn’t arming their captains in case of emergency: now that could have been a real threat.
A round of applause for the passengers who helped to resolve the situation. Another reminder that it is everyday people — not technology, not air marshals, not airside security — that were able to respond. We can’t predict every situation but we can rely on people to do their best to resolve problems as they encounter them.