JetBlue pilot suffers another psychotic meltdown, sleep deprivation concerns raised
A JetBlue captain who went on a crazed rampage during a flight from New York City to Las Vegas in March has suffered another psychotic episode in the mental hospital where he was admitted. The details of the pilot’s latest episode, which have not been released, prompted a federal judge in Texas to order that he stay under psychiatric observation for another 30 days.
Crew members aboard the flight said that Captain Clayton Osbon, 49, showed up late and missed a crew briefing before the airplane took off. His behavior became strange shortly after takeoff, when he started making confused, incoherent statements in the cockpit. He then burst into the cabin yelling about Jesus, September 11, Al Qaeda, bombs, and terrorists. The unruly pilot also made comments about the plane going down and yelled “Guys, push it to full throttle!” The JetBlue plane was carrying 131 passengers and 6 crew members.
As the crazed pilot ran through the airplane, the first officer closed the cockpit door and changed the security code, locking Mr. Osbon out. Crew members and passengers were able to physically restrain the pilot in the aisle while the airplane was diverted to Amarillo, Texas. Mr. Osbon was bound and removed from the airplane in a wheelchair upon landing.
Mr. Osbon faced 20 years in prison for interfering with the instructions of the flight crew, but U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson ruled he not guilty by reason of insanity.
“The defendant appeared to suffer from a severe mental disease or defect that impaired his ability to appreciate the nature, quality or wrongfulness of his behavior,” she said in her ruling. A psychologist who examined Mr. Osbon testified that the psychotic rage was triggered by sleep deprivation.
The original court-ordered psychiatric evaluation was scheduled to be completed this week, but that date has been extended to October 15. The extension accounts for a 2-week period in which federal examiners prepare a report on Osbon’s progress for the court.
Chesley Sullenberger, a former US Airways pilot, recently told ABC News in an interview that relentless sleep deprivation and chronic fatigue among pilots are serious, industry-wide problems. An investigative report by ABC found that many passenger airplane pilots earn as little as $17,000 a year and can’t afford to stay in a hotel room the night before their scheduled flights. Add to that the brutal schedules involving time zone changes pilots endure and their reliance on cheap urban crash pads and flight crew lounges, and pilots are often so tired they become among a flight’s greatest safety risks.
“It is a big concern. It matters. Our passengers deserve better,” Captain Sullenberger told ABC News.
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