JetBlue Captain Subdued After Erratic Behavior on Flight
A JetBlue captain was locked out of the cockpit and wrestled to the floor by passengers after screaming about a bomb during a Las Vegas-bound Tuesday flight from New York.
JetBlue said that the captain of Flight 191, which was diverted to Texas on Tuesday morning, had a “medical situation” and that an off-duty captain traveling on the flight entered the cockpit before the landing “and took over the duties of the ill crewmember once on the ground” in Amarillo.
The co-pilot became concerned that the captain was behaving erratically during the flight, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating in coordination with the FBI, the Transportation Security Administration and Amarillo police.
“The captain had exited the cockpit during the flight, after which the co-pilot locked the door,” said Brie Sachse, an FAA spokeswoman. “When the captain attempted to enter the locked cockpit, he was subdued by passengers.”
Tony Antolino, a 40-year-old executive for a security firm, said the captain walked to the back of the plane, 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, Antolino said.
Heidi Karg, a passenger, told CNN that she heard a lot of commotion. She said a man was trying to get into the cockpit, shouting “I need the code, gimme the code, I need to get in there.” Other passengers wrestled the captain to the floor, she said.
“We heard the word ‘bomb,’ ” Karg said. “We didn’t know exactly what was going on.”
JetBlue said the captain was taken by ambulance to a medical facility in Amarillo.
FBI spokeswoman Lydia Maese said authorities are investigating, but that she couldn’t say more.
Although flight attendants have had outbursts and had to be restrained, it’s extraordinarily rare for a pilot. The incident raises questions about pilots’ mental and physical fitness as well as passengers’ safety when a captain and first officer are behind locked and hardened cockpit doors.
Former pilot John Cox, president of Safety Operation Systems, said he could recall only a couple of incidents similar to Tuesday’s in 40 years in commercial aviation.
Cox said the first officer could have landed the plane safely, even without assistance from the off-duty captain. Cox said crew members are trained to restrain combative passengers under a program called Crew Resource Management 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 crewmember,” Cox said. “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.”