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US Pilot Charged After Mid-Air Mental Meltdown

U.S. authorities have filed charges against a commercial airliner pilot whose mid-air erratic behavior, triggered by an apparent mental breakdown, forced diversion of its domestic flight, media reports citing officials said late on Wednesday.

Capt. Clayton Osbon, currently at a medical facility, was reportedly charged with interfering with the cabin crew. His erratic behavior had forced JetBlue Flight-191 from New York to Las Vegas to make an unscheduled landing in Amarillo, Texas, on Tuesday.

Flight-191 was on its way from New York's JFK Airport with 135 passengers on board, when the pilot walked out of the cockpit and moved to the rear of the plane ranting about a bomb and threats from Iran and al-Qaeda.

"We've got Israel, we've got Iraq," he could be heard screaming in video footage taken on a passenger's cell phone. At one stage, the emotionally upset pilot is said to have screamed about the bomb and reached for the plane's door.

Although crew members tried to clam the pilot and take him from the cockpit, Osbon insisted on returning to the cockpit. Then some of the male passengers on board the flight intervened and overpowered the well-built pilot, ending a half-an-hour-mayhem.

Osbon, a veteran pilot, was reportedly left tied up on the floor outside the cockpit, while an off-duty pilot who happened to be on board took over and helped land the jetliner in Texas. Soon after the bizarre incident, JetBlue said Osbon was suspended.

The airline, however, did not elaborate on the pilot's condition. Nevertheless, JetBlue CEO Dave Barger referred the incident as a "medical situation." He later told NBC News that there was nothing in Osbon's records to suggest that he could be a risk.

The FBI, assisted by federal air and transport safety regulators and police, are investigating the incident, and is looking at the pilot's history and his medical records to determine what may have caused his mental meltdown.

The incident has triggered concerns about psychological screening for flight crews. According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, all airline pilots are required to have a first-class medical certificate to fly. The pilots are also required to get the certificate renewed every six months to one year, depending on his/her age.

The medical test includes a physical examination, but excludes a formal psychiatric evaluation of the pilots. But FAA's Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners states that the examiner should "form a general impression of the emotional stability and mental state of the applicant."

by RTT Staff Writer

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