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JetBlue passengers subdue pilot ranting about a bomb, al-Qaida

By Oskar Garcia and Betsy Blaney

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 03:31 p.m. HST, Mar 27, 2012


 

LAS VEGAS >> Passengers onboard a JetBlue flight bound for Las Vegas today tackled and restrained the plane's captain after he was locked out of the cockpit by crew members, screamed 'they're going to take us down' and ranted about al-Qaida and a possible bomb onboard, passengers said.

The captain of JetBlue Airways Flight 191 from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport had a "medical situation" and the co-pilot diverted the plane to land in Amarillo, Texas, around 10 a.m., the airline said.

Passengers said the captain stormed out of the cockpit and started acting erratically and seemed disoriented. Tony Antolino, a 40-year-old executive for a security firm, said the captain walked to the back of the plane after crew members tried to calm him down. He 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, according to Antolino.

Josh Redick, a passenger sitting near the middle of the plane, said the captain seemed "irate" and was "spouting off about Afghanistan and souls and al-Qaida."

The captain then tried to re-enter the cockpit, but he was not allowed back in. The captain had been exhibiting "erratic behavior," so the co-pilot locked him out of the cockpit, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

Gabriel Schonzeit, who was sitting in the third row, said the captain said there could be a bomb on board the flight.

"He started screaming about al-Qaida and possibly a bomb on the plane and Iraq and Iran and about how we were all going down," Schonzeit told the Amarillo Globe-News.

Antolino, who said he sat in the 10th row, said he and three others tackled the captain as he ran for the cockpit door, pinned him and held him down while the plane landed at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

"That's how we landed," he said. "There were four of us on top of him. ... Everybody else kind of took a seat and that's how we landed."

An off-duty airline captain who happened to be a passenger on the flight went to the flight deck and took over the duties of the ill captain "once on the ground," the airline said in a statement. It didn't elaborate.

Shane Helton, 39, of Quinlan, Okla., said he saw emergency and security personnel coming on and off the plane as it sat on the tarmac at the Amarillo airport.

"They pulled one guy out on a stretcher and put him in an ambulance," said Helton, who went to the airport with his fiance to see one of her sons off as he joined the Navy.

Helton said the ambulance then sat on the tarmac next to the plane for more than 30 minutes.

JetBlue said the ill captain was taken to a medical facility in Amarillo.

Authorities interviewed each of the passengers once they had landed and left the plane, said 22-year-old passenger Grant Heppes, of New York City.

The FBI was coordinating an investigation with the airport police, Amarillo police, the FAA and the Transportation Safety Administration, said agency spokeswoman Lydia Maese in Dallas. She declined to say if any arrests had been made.

As a result of the incident, the FAA is likely to review the 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 are required to be renewed every year if the pilot is under 40, every six months if 40 or over.

To obtain a certificate, the pilot must receive a physical examination by an FAA-designated medical examiner that includes questions about the pilot's psychological condition. The medical examiner can order additional psychological testing.

Pilots are required to disclose all existing physical and psychological conditions and medications.

In 2008, an Air Canada co-pilot had a mental breakdown on a flight from Toronto to London and was forcibly removed from the cockpit, restrained and sedated. A flight attendant with flying experience helped the pilot safely make an emergency landing in Ireland, and none of the 146 passengers and nine crew members on board were injured.

———

Blaney reported from Lubbock, Texas. Associated Press writer Samantha Bomkampf contributed to this report from New York City.







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loquaciousone wrote:
What are they feeding these flight crews? First a stewardess and now a pilot? I think I'll swim next time I go to the mainland.
on March 27,2012 | 10:01AM
shmellycat808 wrote:
Really, is someone sabotaging the water supply at the designated hotels that the flight crews stay in??
on March 27,2012 | 02:04PM
peanutgallery wrote:
Thanks to the folks who got up, got involved, and got this guy under control. We need more people to get involved. Just sitting there, if you have the ability to do something, can no longer be an option. Hat's off to these folks.
on March 27,2012 | 10:07AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
Would be interesting to get a follow up on this. Was fatigue a factor? Is he on medication? Must have been scary for the passengers as when you're up there, there's no place else to run. Kudos to the co pilot.
on March 27,2012 | 11:15AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Remind me never to take that airline.
on March 27,2012 | 11:50AM
cojef wrote:
Scary, makes you wonder, whom can you trust??? Could be Jet-Blue management are not checking pilots credentials and certifications as required. Fire his supervisor.
on March 27,2012 | 01:31PM
copperwire9 wrote:
Oh yeah, sure. Fire his supervisor - before finding out what happened? With or without a medical check-up? With no more information that this? C'mon, cojef, try to be rational now and then, okay?
on March 27,2012 | 02:17PM
kainalu wrote:
The 4th such incident since the TSA took over that the PASSENGERS handled the situation - the shoe bomber, under-wear bomber, the cuckoo flight attendant, and now the cuckoo pilot. That's TSA - 0, PASSENGERS 4. With the increased awareness of the traveling public, the airport staff, and flight crew, the need for such stringent TSA procedures is unwarranted. Check the check-on luggage for explosives, go ahead and scan and screen check-on luggage and passengers, and let's get back to living fear-free.
on March 27,2012 | 02:31PM
sixthsense wrote:
Nowadays, with more unexplainables, there's more of a possibility of the inevitable happening! Show some humility, this can happen to you or me! At least we can all be thankful for a very happy ending due to the quick thinking of those passengers, who were up and at it!
on March 27,2012 | 03:50PM
Grimbold wrote:
The pilot was given a drug by a moslem terrorist , a drug that can be just like a little dust in the air and inhaled when he brushed against someone. That is their new method tried out the first time.
on March 27,2012 | 05:38PM
HD36 wrote:
Watching too much fox news and Santorum.
on March 27,2012 | 07:36PM
IAmSane wrote:
If you're looking for rational thought, you're in the wrong website. We're all about knee-jerk reactions here.
on March 27,2012 | 09:55PM
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