Sleep Deprivation Blamed for JetBlue Pilot's March Meltdown

Clayton Osbon was found not guilty by reason of insanity on July 3.

ByABC News
July 10, 2012, 1:50 AM

July 10, 2012 — -- The JetBlue airline pilot who went on a frightening in-flight tirade in March, forcing the flight to be diverted, was having a "brief psychotic disorder" because of sleep deprivation, a psychologist testified at a hearing. The psychologist's testimony, given last week, was revealed in court documents released today.

According to witnesses, Clayton Osbon, 49, was flying a New York-to-Las Vegas jetliner March 27 when he went on a rampage in the cabin, ranting about Sept. 11, 2001, making allusions to terrorists and yelling, "Guys, push it to full throttle."

"Osbon also yelled jumbled comments about Jesus, September 11, Iraq, Iran, and terrorists," according to a criminal complaint. The plane was carrying 131 passengers and six crew members.

"The captain of the plane just went berserk," passenger Wayne Holmes told ABC News. "He came out of the other end of the plane -- came running back to the cockpit and he was shouting out these numbers -- 500 something. He started banging on the cockpit door."

A passenger subdued Osbon, a veteran captain, and the flight was diverted safely to Amarillo, Texas. Osbon was later suspended from his duties and charged with interfering with flight crew instructions

The U.S. Attorney's Office did not dispute the psychologist's testimony on July 3 and a federal judge in Texas found Osbon 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," U.S. District Judge Mary Lous Robinson said last week.

Osbon was sent to a mental health facility in Fort Worth for additional treatment.

Despite denials from the airline industry, ABC News has found that large numbers of pilots have reported for duty every day after getting only a few hours of what fatigue experts call "destructive sleep" in crowded crew lounges and so-called "crash pads."

Critics say that widespread pilot fatigue is putting airline passengers at risk, and may already have cost lives.

JetBlue told ABC News today, however, that Osbon had the weekend off before that Tuesday flight and that Monday he'd only flown two trips before having an additional 17 hours off.

The airline said that it continued to comply with new rules instituted by the Federal Aviation Administration in December that require a 10-hour rest period for pilots between flights and 30 consecutive hours off during the week.

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

Alison Croyle, an airline spokeswoman, told The Associated Press today that Osbon was still employed by JetBlue and on "inactive status."

Osbon could be released as early as August, when he is expected to have another hearing. A judge may determine whether he can be permanently released or committed to a facility.