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Doctor says lack of sleep prompted pilot's breakdown
LUBBOCK, Texas -- A psychologist testified that a JetBlue Airways pilot who screamed about religion and terrorists during a flight had "a brief psychotic disorder" due to lack of sleep, according to a transcript of the trial obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
A judge found Clayton Osbon not guilty by reason of insanity during a brief and unpublicized trial earlier this month in Texas. Osbon had been charged with interference with a flight crew for his behavior on a March 27 flight from New York to Las Vegas.
Passengers said they wrestled the pilot to the floor after he ran through the cabin yelling about Jesus and al-Qaida. The flight was diverted and safely landed in Texas.
According to the court transcripts, forensic neuropsychologist Robert E.H. Johnson testified that Osbon's disorder lasted about a week after the incident. Johnson didn't specify how long Osborn may have gone without sleep, and his psychiatric evaluation was sealed during the trial, but he said he determined Osbon suffered from brief psychotic disorder and delusions "secondary to sleep deprivation."
Osborn, who was taken to a mental health facility after the flight, could not appreciate the nature and quality of his actions or their wrongfulness, Johnson testified.
JetBlue declined to comment on the psychologist's testimony, citing no medical authority on the topic. But company spokeswoman Sharon Jones said Osbon did not fly March 24 or 25, and worked a round-trip flight March 26 that gave him 17 hours of off time leading into the flight March 27.
The Federal Aviation Administration is still investigating, spokesman Lynn Lunsford said, adding: "It's still too early to draw conclusions about any potential actions that might occur as the result of this incident."
Osbon is at a mental health facility in Fort Worth. Court records show he is scheduled for another hearing early next month where the burden will be on him to show "by clear and convincing evidence" that his release would not pose future danger.
U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson sealed Johnson's psychiatric evaluation and said during the trial that it would remain the sealed.
Osbon showed up at the airport unusually late for the March 27 flight, and the plane was in midair when he eerily told his first officer they wouldn't make it to their destination, according to court documents.
He then started rambling about religion, the documents say. 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, according to court documents.
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."
Osbon then left the cockpit, according to witness accounts compiled by investigators. Osbon, described by neighbors in Georgia as tall and muscular, "aggressively" grabbed the hands of a flight attendant who confronted him and later sprinted down the cabin while being chased.
From inside the locked cockpit, which Osbon tried to re-enter by banging on the door, the co-pilot gave an order through the intercom to restrain Osbon, the affidavit said. Passengers wrestled Osbon to the ground. One female flight attendant's ribs were bruised, though no one on board was seriously hurt.
At least 10 passengers sued JetBlue after the incident, claiming they feared for their lives and that the airline was "grossly negligent" in allowing Osbon to fly.
FAA rules going into effect late next year add specifics to how much time a pilot must get to rest. The new rule requires a pilot have a 10-hour rest period, including eight hours of uninterrupted sleep opportunity. Currently, rules specify that a pilot must get nine hours of rest, reducible to eight hours, but do not factor in sleep opportunity.