Pilot who had midair breakdown to undergo testing

Capt. Clayton Osbon, the JetBlue pilot who had a midair breakdown on his New York-to-Las Vegas flight last week, will undergo a psychological test to determine his mental competence and if he can stand trial.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson ordered the 49-year-old Osbon to be transported to a federal medical center for the mental competency test, according to the Amarillo Globe-News. A government motion, based on details from an FBI affidavit, said the captain’s behaviors “establish a likelihood that Osbon may be suffering from a mental disease or defect,” the paper reported.

The results will help Osbon’s attorney, E. Dean Roper, frame his client’s defense, said a legal expert interviewed by the Amarillo Globe-News. Roper did not comment to the Amarillo paper.

Flight 191 was scheduled from John F. Kennedy Airport to Las Vegas, but was diverted to Amarillo, Texas, on March 27 after Osbon began acting erratically and had to be subdued by passengers. JetBlue suspended Osbon following the incident. He is charged with interfering with a flight crew and, if convicted, could face 20 years in prison.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that airline pilots have a medical certificate, which must be renewed annually if the pilot is under 40 and every six months if the pilot is older than 40. To receive the certificate, pilots undergo a physical examination by an FAA-designated physician.

A psychological assessment is not part of the evaluation, but the physician can order testing if deemed necessary. The pilots are responsible for disclosing all existing physical and psychological conditions and may have their certificate revoked if they withhold that information. 

A federal criminal complaint alleges that JetBlue captain Clayton Osbon told his first officer, “we need to take a leap of faith.” NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

Osbon’s last medical exam was four months ago, FAA told msnbc.com last week. “He has a clean record, no incidents or accidents and the FAA has not taken any type of enforcement action against him,” the agency said in a statement.

Osbon’s wife, Connye Osbon, said on Sunday that the pilot’s family is focused on his recovery. She asked the media for privacy and said the family would not be granting interviews or making further statements. She said the family appreciated the public’s concern.

“It is our belief, as Clayton’s family, that while he was clearly distressed, he was not intentionally violent toward anyone,” said a statement by Connye Osbon that was released by JetBlue on Sunday. “We know you were placed in an awful situation and we appreciate your ability to respond professionally.”

JetBlue said in a blog post last week that it will not share further details about the captain’s “private life.”

Clayton Osbon, who had been flying for nearly 25 years, allegedly began yelling at air traffic controllers and later ran toward the cockpit door after getting locked out. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.


Msnbc.com’s Rebecca Ruiz, NBC News and Reuters contributed to this report.

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