The wife of a JetBlue captain who went berserk mid-flight forcing passengers to restrain him has defended her husband as it emerged that he may have suffered a ‘panic attack’. Clayton Frederick Osbon, 49, screamed ‘say your prayers, say your prayers’ at terrified passengers after running up and down the aisle shouting ‘Iraq, al-Qaeda, terrorism, we’re all going down.’
Law enforcement sources said the captain of yesterday’s flight 191 from JFK to Las Vegas who went ‘crazy’ after he went to the toilet and returned to find that he had been locked out of the cockpit, had suffered a panic attack.
His co-pilot had managed to coax him out of the flight deck after becoming concerned when the experienced captain had started randomly flipping switches in the cockpit.
Osbon, who has been charged with interfering with a flight crew and is receiving medical care while in FBI custody, has been a JetBlue captain for 12 years, but has been around planes for about 30 years.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Osbon has been married to his wife Connye since 2005, according to the pilot’s Facebook page.
Mrs Osbon, speaking to ABC News, warned that there might be more to what happened aboard the flight.
She told the network: ‘There are several different sides to every story. Just keep that in mind’.
But she added, ‘I don’t have a clue… I have no idea what’s going on.I haven’t spoken with him.’
Passengers told local media that about three hours into the flight the captain had behaved oddly after going to the toilet, randomly talking with passengers on his way back to the cockpit.
The veteran captain, a commercial pilot since 1989, was not at the plane controls but ‘began acting erratically, flipping switches in the cockpit and appearing confused,’ according to the sources reports ABC.
They said his co-pilot tricked him into going to the passenger compartment to check something out, then locked the door and changed the security code behind him.
When he went back to the cockpit and realized he had been locked out, a passenger said Osbon, a married father of one from Savannah, Georgia, began screaming ‘let me in’ and acting erratically.
Tony Antolino, a 40-year-old executive for a security firm, said the captain walked to the back of the plane.
He seemed disoriented and agitated, then began yelling about an unspecified threat linked to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘They’re going to take us down, they’re taking us down, they’re going to take us down. Say the Lord’s prayer, say the Lord’s prayer,’ the captain screamed, according to Antolino.
Antolino, who said he sat in the 10th row, said he and three others tackled the captain as he ran for the cockpit door.
The passengers pinned the 6ft 4in tall captain and held him down for 20 minutes while the plane landed at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.
‘That’s how we landed,’ he said. ‘We just grabbed a different body part and sat on top of him quite literally. There were four of us on top of him. … Everybody else kind of took a seat and that’s how we landed.’
Antolino said that the plastic zip ties provided by the crew proved useless, and the men were forced to used seat belt and passenger’s personal belts to try to restrain the man.
‘The real hero here is the co-pilot, he had the instincts to recognise that something was going wrong in the cockpit and he managed to somehow persuade him out of the cockpit.
‘That really was what completely averted what could have been a tragedy yesterday.’
Paul Babakitis, a retired police officer said he and other passengers sprung into action to stop Osbon.
Babakitis told CNN’s Piers Morgan: ‘I felt if he got in the cockpit, he was going to try to take that plane down, and not for a safe landing’.
An off-duty airline captain who just happened to be a passenger on the flight went to the flight deck and took over the duties of the ill captain ‘once on the ground,’ the airline said in a statement.
JetBlue CEO Dave Barger, appearing on NBC’s Today this morning and said that he knew the captain personally for a long time.
He said that there were no signs that suggested that the captain could suffer from an in-flight meltdown. He was a ‘consummate professional’ Barger said.
‘It was a true team effort at 35,000 feet yesterday,’ Barger said, praising the response by passengers and crew.
He described it as a medical situation that turned into a security one. He said he did not think anyone from the company has since talked to Osbon.
‘The captain’s now in the hands of medical care, obviously, under the custody of the FBI.’ Barger said told Today program.
‘I’ve known the captain personally for a long period of time and there’s been no indication of this at all.’
Josh Redick, a passenger seated near the middle of the jet, added: ‘He was irate. He was spouting off about Afghanistan and souls and al Qaeda’.
New Yorker Gabriel Schonzeit, who was seated in the third row of the plane, told USA Today that Osbon had started ‘shouting, “Iraq, al-Qaeda, terrorism, we’re all going down” during his mid-flight meltdown.
Mr Schonzeit added: ‘It seemed like he went crazy’.
Grant Heppes, a 22-year-old passenger also from New York said that the man was wearing a JetBlue uniform, and that he started to become disruptive when he was barred from getting back inside the cockpit.
One passenger told Fox 5 News the pilot was in the cabin trying to storm the cockpit.
‘I saw a guy wearing a pilot’s uniform run down the aisle screaming and yelling and banging on the cockpit door to let him in,’ the witness said.
The witness, Fox 5 News reports, said the man was screaming, ‘Say your prayers! Say your prayers!’
Heidi Karg, another passenger on the flight, told CNN that the man was desperately trying to get into the cockpit, shouting ‘I need the code, gimme the code, I need to get in there.’
A flight attendant quickly got onto the intercom and called on passengers to ‘restrain him’.
‘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.
But a group of male passengers, including a retired NYPD sergeant and former prison security guard David Gonzalez jumped up and held the man down.
‘I knew there were about 130 people on the plane…families, kids…and I thought, this is not going to happen on my plane,’ Mr Gonzalez told ABCNews.com.
The 50-year-old said he knew he act quickly when he saw the captain heading for the emergency exit.
‘I just didn’t want him opening up that door,’ Gonzalez told ABC News. ‘I knew if he got in there, we wouldn’t be sitting here now.’
Mr Gonzalez said he went to assist the flight attendant and asked the pilot what his problem was.
Mr Gonzalez said the man replied, ‘You’d better start praying right now’ and was shouting about Iraq and Iran.
‘I said, ‘I’m going to show you Iraq and Iran right now,’ and I just took him in a choke hold,’ Mr Gonzalez said.
‘I started to cut his windpipe off so he couldn’t get any air.’
the father-of-five from Pennsylvania described feeling the man get weak and he passed out about three minutes later.
Mr Gonzalez and the group of men restrained the pilot using seat belts and offered him some water when he came to, reports ABC News.
‘If he got a second wind, I’d have to apply more pressure and I didn’t want to hurt him,” Gonzalez said.
‘I just wanted to get him calm, get the plane down and get him some medical assistance.’
Mr Gonzalez sat on the unruly pilot worried that he might get free until the plane landed safely in Amarillo, Texas.
The flight had been packed with heavily built men heading to the 2012 International Security Conference in Las Vegas held for professionals working in ‘law enforcement, border protection and campus security’.
It has media sponsors including The Counter Terrorist magazine, Homeland Security Newswire and Government Security News.
One witness told CBS: ‘He picked the wrong plane. Huge guys just tackled him. The response was Olympics kind of stuff.’
When the pilot had been safely removed passengers thanked Mr Gonzalez for his bravery and asked to take photos with him, reports ABC News.
‘It’s amazing how people thanked me,’ Gonzalez said. ‘I don’t find myself a hero. I just couldn’t take that. I got that spark. I knew I had to get involved.’
‘Someone next to me said he was saying something about bombs,’ passenger Tiffany Lee, a 26-year-old Las Vegas resident told the Post.
‘It was so scary. People around me were freaking out a little bit. The girl next to me was saying, ‘Oh my god, what If I never talk to my fiancé again?’
CNN quotes one passenger, Tom Murphy, as saying that the captain had come into the cabin and initially tried to break into a locked bathroom, then on the cockpit door.
The flight attendants had tried to take the pilot to the back of the plane, but he broke free and ran to the front, threatening to blow up the plane and saying there was a bomb on board, reports CNN.
The pilot had also urged for someone to restrain him, she said. ‘We heard the word ‘bomb’.
Laurie Dhue, a former Fox News Channel anchor who was on board the flight, told the network passengers could hear the pilot using the words ‘Afghanistan’ and ‘Israel’ during the commotion.
The flight was taking passengers to Las Vegas for a security convention when the plane was diverted at around 10am
JetBlue said the captain had a ‘medical situation’ and was taken to an Amarillo hospital.
According to his Linkedin profile, Osbon is also the director of Body By Vi, a company which claims to help people to a better ‘life through health and financial prosperity’.
Another ambulance was also called to check on a passenger who was experiencing chest pains.
JetBlue says an off-duty captain who happened to be aboard the plane went to the flight deck and took over the duties of the ill captain ‘once on the ground.’
Flight 191 had 135 passengers and five crew members when it took off from John F. Kennedy Airport at about 7.28am, JetBlue said.
Shane Helton, 39, of Quinlan, Oklahoma, said he saw emergency and security personnel coming on and off the plane as it sat on the tarmac at the airport.
‘They pulled one guy out on a stretcher and put him in an ambulance,’ said Helton, who went to the airport with his fiancée to see one of her sons off as he joined the Navy.
Helton said the ambulance then sat on the tarmac next to the plane for more than 30 minutes.
The airline said the passengers had to await another plane to take them on to their destination.
John Cox, a former pilot who is now a safety expert, told USA TODAY that the other pilot on the flight could have landed the plane safely alone without assistant from the off-duty captain.
Mr Cox said crew members are trained to restrain combative passengers under a program that could have applied to the pilot.
‘The same training to restrain an abusive passenger that presents a physical threat could be utilized against a crew member,’ said Cox, as president of Safety Operation Systems.
‘It was great that there was another captain that was on the flight that could assist the first officer. Had he not been there, though, the first officer is completely capable and trained to land the aircraft. There was never a risk to the passengers.’