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JetBlue Pilot Meltdown Blamed on "Panic Attack"

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“They're going to take us down!...Say the Lord’s prayer!”

It would be terrifying enough to hear that kind of threat announced inside the cabin, mid-flight from some deranged airline passenger. Ratcheting the anxiety up a few notches would be watching a flight attendant spew an out-of-control rant that you’re all going to die at the hands of al Qaida.

But coming from the plane’s captain, it’s a big old barf bag of terror. Hands down, the one guy you absolutely don’t want telling you there’s a bomb onboard and that the plane is going down is the one in the navy cap with the gold wings. Because, of course, the tendency would be to believe him.  

Until yesterday, airline passengers had been spared all but that last, most fearsome of the 9/11-fueled meltdown scenarios. Those on JetBlue (JBLU) flight 191 from New York to Las Vegas now have the dubious distinction of witnessing, at 30,000 feet, the unraveling of the fabric of our last bastions of safety in the skies.

Their pilot, Clayton Osbon, a 20-year veteran of the airline industry, had a panic attack, according to law enforcement officials. The strange behavior started in the cockpit when he started flipping switches in an erratic fashion and radioing for help. After the co-pilot managed to lock him out of the cockpit, Osbon was coaxed to the back of the plane by the crew but then stormed back up the aisle and banged on the door shouting, “Bring the throttle to idle! Bring it to idle! We're going down, we're all going to die! Pray to Jesus. Open this goddamn door!”

At roughly six feet, four inches and 260 pounds, Osbon’s strength outmatched that of the flight attendants. But once he reached for the exit door, he met his match in husky passenger (and instant American hero) David Gonzalez. Five more passengers soon intervened and helped wrestle Osbon to the floor as he struggled to free himself for the entire half hour until the plane made its emergency landing.

On the ground, Osbon was immediately taken into custody, where he remains.

Flight crew members do undergo mental evaluations prior to employment. But, according to aviation analyst, John Nance, on the heels of the American Airlines (AAMRQ) flight attendant breakdown earlier this month, “...there’s no specific program for periodic re-screening for psychological disturbance because it's just not expected.”  

With two such occurrences happening in the space of a few weeks, it may be time for the FAA to start expecting it.
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