Passengers Sue JetBlue for Pilot Meltdown Incident

PHOTO: JetBlue pilot Clayton Frederick Osbon, right, is escorted to a waiting vehicle by FBI agents as he is released from The Pavilion at Northwest Texas Hospital.
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Passengers aboard the March JetBlue flight on which a pilot had to be locked out of the cockpit and restrained after his rant about al Qaeda and 9/11 have filed the first lawsuit related to the incident.

The lawyer representing some of the passengers aboard JetBlue flight 191 says the airline must answer why a pilot with known mental-health issues was allowed to fly a commercial plane.

"We know an insane pilot was flying the plane," attorney Steven Epstein said. "Now we want to know why."

Capt. Clayton Osbon, 49, was suspended from his duties and charged with interfering with flight crew instructions after the March 27 incident on the flight from New York to Las Vegas, during which he ranted at passengers after he was locked out of the cockpit by his co-pilot and had to be restrained until the plane could make an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas.

Osbon will be in court Friday morning to see whether he is competent to stand trial. He could face up to 20 years in prison, according to the Department of Justice.

Ten passengers from the flight filed the first of what is expected to be many lawsuits demanding unspecified damages from Osbon and JetBlue.

"People pay attention when money's involved," flight 191 passenger Marshall Brooks said. "This is going to get JetBlue's attention, force them to do something about it, and not sweep it under the rug."

Both Brooks and fellow passenger Kathy Euler thought their lives were in serious danger aboard flight 191, which was carrying 135 passengers and six crew members. Euler said she now has trouble trusting airline pilots when she places her life in their hands.

"I am petrified," Euler said. "You normally walk right past the pilot, go to your seat. I will stop and look at every pilot. ...… When the pilot has to be subdued by passengers, the first thought in your mind is, 'Is this plane going to crash.'"

Marshall recalled the chaotic scene when Osbon was eventually wrestled to the ground by at least five passengers after his co-pilot locked him out of the cockpit when he displayed potentially dangerous behavior. Osbon allegedly ranted about Jesus, September 11, Iraq, Iran, terrorists, and yelled, "Guys, push it to full throttle."

"The next thing I know, I hear over the P.A., 'subdue him,' passenger Marshall said. "And a bunch of people jumped up and ran up to the front, and subdued [him]."

Epstein, the attorney for the passengers, said suing for damages is the only way to get answers about why a pilot, who now says he had mental issues, was not diagnosed before boarding the plane.

Osbon is facing criminal charges for disrupting the flight. But some of the passengers on board say that is not enough.

"You drive a car every day, you have to be held accountable," passenger Euler said. "He's flying a plane with hundreds of people. He's got to be held accountable."

Brooks, Euler and the rest of the passengers say the JetBlue response to the episode -- offering them credit for the disrupted flight and nothing more -- has been insulting.

The airline said there would be "no comment on pending litigation." Osbon's attorney did not respond to request for comment.

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