JetBlue pilot who disrupted flight free to go home

Friday - 11/9/2012, 2:30pm EST

By BETSY BLANEY
Associated Press

AMARILLO, Texas (AP) - A JetBlue Airways captain who ran through the cabin of a cross-country flight yelling about religion and terrorists was prohibited Friday from flying or keeping his pilot's license, and now faces what could be the difficult task of finding work after being released from a prison medical facility.

Clayton Osbon was released more than seven months after a March flight from New York to Las Vegas during which passengers said the 49-year-old pilot left the cockpit and ran through the cabin yelling about Jesus and al-Qaida. The flight was diverted and safely landed in Amarillo, Texas.

Osbon was charged with interference with a flight crew. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity after a forensic neuropsychologist testified in a short, unpublicized trial that Osbon had a "brief psychotic disorder" brought on by lack of sleep. Reports on Osbon's psychiatric evaluations over the past several months have been sealed.

Osbon remains a JetBlue employee on inactive duty, but conditions set Friday by U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson say he is not allowed on board any domestic or international flight without permission from the judge or his probation officer and he must forego his license. The conditions also say he must find regular work, unless his probation officer approves schooling or training instead.

Defense attorney Dean Roper said he did not know what sort of employment Osbon might pursue.

Osbon also is not allowed to communicate with anyone on the flight he disrupted and must participate in a treatment program for alcohol, drug and narcotic dependency, according to the judge's order.

"This is a bad situation for you and your family, but you are fortunate to have the type of immediate support that you have," said Robinson, who could have committed Osbon to a mental health facility.

Osbon appeared at his Friday hearing in a green jail jumpsuit and did not make an extended statement in court. Roper said afterward that he didn't know if Osbon would ever fly again, but was relieved the months-long legal proceeding was at an end.

"It's been a long ordeal for everyone involved, especially Mr. Osbon," Roper said.

Osbon left the federal courthouse without commenting to reporters and was to head back to his home in Georgia later in the day. Osbon and a JetBlue colleague who attended the hearing were making the 1,300-mile road trip together, Roper said.

JetBlue spokeswoman Sharon Jones declined Friday to say whether the judge's order would affect Osbon's status as employed but on inactive duty.

Osbon showed up unusually late for the March 27 flight. The plane was in midair when he told his first officer that they wouldn't make it to their destination, according to court documents.

He began to ramble about religion, scolded air traffic controllers to quiet down, then turned off the radios and dimmed the monitors in the cockpit. He said aloud that "things just don't matter" and encouraged his co-pilot to take a leap of faith.

When he left the cockpit, passengers moved to restrain him. A flight attendant's ribs were bruised in the scuffle, but no one was seriously injured.

At least 10 passengers have sued JetBlue over the episode.

Neuropsychologist Robert E.H. Johnson testified in July that Osbon's psychotic disorder at the time of flight lasted for about a week afterward, according to a hearing transcript. He determined Osbon suffered from a brief psychotic disorder and delusions "secondary to sleep deprivation." He didn't say how long Osbon had gone without sleeping before boarding the plane, and his psychiatric evaluation of Osbon has been sealed.

Those symptoms made Osbon incapable of understanding why his actions on the flight were wrong, Johnson testified.

After the July trial, Osbon was sent to a prison medical facility in North Carolina for evaluation. Robinson was to decide what happened next for Osbon in August, but instead extended his evaluation period into October after being notified that Osbon had suffered a psychotic episode in prison. She did not say what the nature of the episode was, if it was connected to his previous disorder or what prompted it.

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Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Dallas contributed to this report.


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