Wednesday, 28 March 2012
JetBlue Emergency Landing: Passengers Recount Scare After Pilot Outburst
LAS VEGAS — Passengers aboard an early morning flight bound from New York to Las Vegas first noticed something wrong when the plane's top pilot came out of the cockpit, didn't close the door and tried to force his way into an occupied bathroom.
The JetBlue captain's co-workers tried to calm him as he became more jittery, coaxing him to the back of the plane while making sure – above all – that he didn't get back near the plane's controls.
Then, he sprinted up the cabin's aisle – ranting about a bomb, screaming "They're going to take us down!" and urging confused passengers to pray.
"Nobody knew what to do because he is the captain of the plane," said Don Davis, the owner of a Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based wireless broadband manufacturer who was traveling to Sin City for a security industry conference.
"You're not just going to jump up and attack the captain," Davis said.
But four men did tackle the pilot, pinning him to the floor for more than 20 minutes while the co-pilot and an off-duty pilot who was aboard landed the plane in Amarillo, Texas.
"Clearly, he had an emotional or mental type of breakdown," said Tony Antolino, a security executive who sat in the 10th row of the plane and tackled the pilot when he tried to re-enter the cockpit.
"He became almost delusional," Antolino said after arriving in Las Vegas from Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport some six hours after schedule.
Josh Redick, who was sitting near the middle of the plane, said the captain seemed "irate" and was "spouting off about Afghanistan and souls and al-Qaida."Airlines and the FAA strongly encourage pilots to assert themselves if they think safety is being jeopardized, even if it means contradicting a captain's orders, Cox said. Aviation safety experts have studied several cases where first officers deferred to more experienced captains with tragic results.
Unruly pilots and crew have disrupted flights in the past.
Earlier this month, an American Airlines flight attendant took over the public-address system on a flight bound for Chicago and spoke for 15 minutes about Sept. 11 and the safety of their plane, saying, "I'm not responsible for this plane crashing," according to several passengers.
Passengers wrestled the flight attendant into a seat while the plane was grounded at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; the flight attendant was hospitalized.
In 2008, an Air Canada co-pilot was forcibly removed from a Toronto-to-London flight, restrained and sedated after having a mental breakdown on a flight.
The FAA is likely to review the unidentified captain's medical certificate – essentially a seal of approval that the pilot is healthy. All pilots working for scheduled airlines must have a first-class medical certificate. The certificates must be renewed every six months to a year, depending on the pilot's age. To receive the certificate, the pilot must receive a physical examination by an FAA-designated medical examiner that includes questions about pilot's psychological condition. Pilots are required to disclose all physical and psychological conditions and medications.