JetBlue pilot who disrupted flight to head home after deemed not guilty by reason of insanity
AMARILLO, Texas - A JetBlue Airways pilot who disrupted a cross-country flight by leaving the cockpit and yelling about religion and terrorists is free to go home rather than be committed to a mental health facility, a Texas judge ruled Friday.
Clayton Osbon was charged with interference with a flight crew for the March incident, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity in July. A forensic neuropsychologist testified in a short, unpublicized trial that Osbon had a "brief psychotic disorder" brought on by lack of sleep.
U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson said Friday that Osbon would be allowed to go free, but set certain conditions for his release. He will not be allowed to fly or board any commercial or private planes without the permission of Robinson or his probation officer, and he will not be allowed to communicate with any passengers from the March 27 flight he disrupted, according to the judge's order.
"This is a bad situation for you and your family, but you are fortunate to have the type of immediate support that you have," Robinson said.
Passengers on the March 27 flight from New York to Las Vegas said the 49-year-old Osbon ran through the cabin yelling about Jesus and al-Qaida. The flight was diverted and safely landed in Amarillo, Texas.
At least 10 passengers have sued JetBlue over the episode.
Osbon appeared in a green jail jumpsuit and did not make an extended statement in court. His attorney, Dean Roper, said afterward that he didn't know if Osbon would fly again, but was relieved the months-long legal proceeding was at an end.
"It's been a long ordeal for everyone involved, especially Mr. Osbon," Roper said.
Osbon left the federal courthouse without commenting to reporters and was expected head back to his home in Georgia later in the day. Osbon and a friend who attended the hearing planned to make the 1,300-mile trip by car, Roper said.
JetBlue spokeswoman Sharon Jones said Friday that Osbon still was employed and listed on "inactive duty." Jones declined to say if Robinson's order would affect that status.
Osbon showed up unusually late for the March 27 flight. The plane was in midair when he told his first officer that they wouldn't make it to their destination, according to court documents.
Osbon began to ramble about religion, scolded air traffic controllers to quiet down, then turned off the radios altogether and dimmed the monitors in the cockpit. He said aloud that "things just don't matter" and encouraged his co-pilot to take a leap of faith.
When he left the cockpit, passengers moved to restrain him. A flight attendant's ribs were bruised in the scuffle, but no one was seriously injured.
Neuropsychologist Robert E.H. Johnson testified in July that Osbon's psychotic disorder at the time of flight lasted for about a week afterward, according to a hearing transcript. He determined Osbon suffered from a brief psychotic disorder and delusions "secondary to sleep deprivation." He didn't say how long Osbon had gone without sleeping before boarding the plane, and his psychiatric evaluation of Osbon has been sealed.
Those symptoms made Osbon incapable of understanding why his actions on the flight were wrong, Johnson testified.
After the July trial, Osbon was sent to a prison medical facility in North Carolina for evaluation. Robinson was to decide what happened next for Osbon in August, but instead extended his evaluation period into October after being notified that Osbon had suffered a psychotic episode in prison. She did not say what the nature of the episode was, if it was connected to his previous disorder or what prompted it.
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Dallas contributed to this report.