US charges JetBlue pilot for midair meltdown


US authorities filed criminal charges yesterday against a JetBlue Airways pilot who witnesses said yelled incoherently about religion and the 2001 hijack attacks and pounded on a locked cockpit door before passengers subdued him in a midair uproar.

Flight 191 was diverted to Amarillo, Texas, on Tuesday, following what authorities described as erratic behavior by Captain Clayton Frederick Osbon, who allegedly ran through the cabin before passengers tackled him in the galley.

A flight attendant suffered bruised ribs, officials said.

The Justice Department filed a complaint charging Osbon with interfering with the crew. It is unusual for a commercial airline pilot to be charged in this way, and a US official said he could not recall a similar case in recent years.

Osbon, 49, remains in a guarded facility at a hospital in Amarillo, and US Attorney Sarah Saldana said he faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The 12-year JetBlue veteran was suspended while the FBI and aviation authorities investigate the incident, the airline and the government said on Wednesday.

A JetBlue spokeswoman said the company was cooperating fully with authorities and would conduct its on investigation as well.

Dave Barger, chief executive of the New York carrier, said he knows and respects Osbon, who regulators said underwent a routine medical evaluation nearly four months ago and had a clean record.

The harrowing events raised questions about pilot medical qualifications and workplace stress in an industry under chronic financial pressure and more generally in an economy only slowly shaking the grip of severe recession.