Published November 20, 2014
The JetBlue Airways pilot who disrupted a cross-country flight by leaving the cockpit and yelling about religion and terrorists has had a psychotic episode in prison and requires further mental evaluation, a judge said Wednesday.
Clayton Osbon was charged with interference with a flight crew, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity last month. A forensic neuropsychologist testified in a short, unpublicized trial that Osbon had a "brief psychotic disorder" at the time of the flight brought on by lack of sleep.
Passengers said Osbon left the cockpit during a March 27 flight from New York to Las Vegas. He ran through the plane's cabin yelling about Jesus and al-Qaida. The flight was diverted and safely landed in Amarillo, Texas.
After the trial, Osbon was sent to a prison medical facility in North Carolina for evaluation. He was scheduled to return to Amarillo federal court this week for another hearing on whether he should go free or be sent to a mental health facility.
Instead, U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson on Wednesday extended Osbon's evaluation period to Oct. 15, with a final evaluation report due to her by the end of that month.
Robinson said she was notified by a forensic psychologist that Osbon "had suffered a psychotic episode." She did not say what the nature of the episode was, if it was connected to his previous disorder or what prompted it. A message seeking comment was left for Osbon's attorney, Dean Roper.
Robinson's order said attorneys on both sides did not oppose the extension.
Neuropsychologist Robert E.H. Johnson testified in July that Osbon's psychotic disorder lasted about a week after the flight, according to a hearing transcript. He didn't say how long Osbon had gone without sleeping before boarding the plane, and his psychiatric evaluation of Osbon has been sealed, but he determined Osbon suffered from brief psychotic disorder and delusions "secondary to sleep deprivation."
Those symptoms made Osbon incapable of understanding why his actions on the flight were wrong, Johnson testified.
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 started rambling about religion. He 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 they take a leap of faith.
The first officer then "became really worried," according to a sworn affidavit from FBI agent John Whitworth. "Osbon started trying to correlate completely unrelated numbers like different radio frequencies, and he talked about sins in Las Vegas."
A flight attendant's ribs were bruised as passengers tried to restrain Osbon, but no one on board was seriously injured.
At least 10 passengers have sued JetBlue over the incident.