AMARILLO, Texas — A federal judge in Texas found a JetBlue Airways pilot who left the cockpit during a flight and screamed about religion and terrorists not guilty by reason of insanity Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson in Amarillo issued the ruling during a bench trial for Clayton F. Osbon, noting he suffered from a “severe mental disease or defect.” Mr. Osbon’s attorney, Dean Roper, declined to comment.
Mr. Osbon, who recently was found mentally competent to stand trial after a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, will be sent to a federal mental health facility for further examination until another hearing on or before Aug. 6. The judge will decide then whether he can be released or should be committed to a mental facility.
Mr. Osbon was indicted on one charge of interfering with a flight crew after the March 27 incident on a flight from Las Vegas to New York. Passengers say they wrestled him to the floor after he ran through the plane’s cabin yelling about Jesus and al Qaeda.
Next month’s hearing puts the burden on Mr. Osbon to show “by clear and convincing evidence” that his release would not pose future danger, according to the court records.
JetBlue spokeswoman Alison Croyle said Tuesday that the airline “continues to support the Osbon family.”
“We don’t have further comment as we let the judicial process play out,”she said. “We can confirm he is still employed, on inactive status, with JetBlue.”
Anthony Antolino, a passenger aboard the flight, declined to comment on the verdict Tuesday. He said he has flown JetBlue and other airlines since the incident and has felt no reservations about air travel.
“I think things like this are few and far between,” he said. “However, I think the FAA ought to use this as an example in determining how to screen pilots and those who control airplanes. There was no tragedy here, thankfully, but the FAA shouldn’t have to wait for a tragedy.”
The pilot’s wife, Connye Osbon, issued a statement in April saying the in-flight outburst “wasn’t intentionally violent toward anyone” and asked the media to respect her family’s privacy.
According to court documents, Mr. Osbon showed up at the airport unusually late on the morning of the flight and that the plane was in flight when he eerily told his first officer they wouldn’t make it to their destination.
Mr. Osbon started rambling about religion. He scolded air-traffic controllers to quiet down, then turned off the radios altogether and dimmed the monitors in the cockpit. He said aloud that “things just don’t matter” and encouraged his co-pilot that they take a leap of faith.
The first officer then “became really worried,” according to a sworn affidavit from FBI agent John Whitworth. “Osbon started trying to correlate completely unrelated numbers like different radio frequencies, and he talked about sins in Las Vegas.”
When Mr. Osbon left the cockpit, the co-pilot gave an order through the intercom to restrain Mr. Osbon, the affidavit said. Passengers wrestled the pilot to the ground.
At least 10 passengers sued JetBlue after the incident, claiming they feared for their lives and that the airline was “grossly negligent” in allowing Mr. Osbon to fly.
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