Friends baffled by JetBlue pilot's meltdown

The co-pilot on JetBlue flight 191 has revealed some of the frightening details of what went on the in the cockpit when Captain Clayton Osbon began acting erratically. Lee Cowan reports. CBS

(CBS/AP) RICHMOND HILL, Ga. - No one recalls JetBlue Airways captain Clayton Osbon coming unhinged before. Not the airline that let him fly for 12 years, the neighbors in his secluded waterfront community or the friends he tried selling weight-loss shakes to on the side.

Now federal prosecutors have charged Osbon following his bizarre unraveling aboard Flight 191 to Las Vegas, describing in court records a midair breakdown they say began with cockpit ramblings about religion and ended with passengers wrestling him to the cabin floor.

Witness accounts of Osbon telling his co-pilot "things just don't matter" and sprinting down the center aisle -- yelling jumbled remarks about Sept. 11 and Iran -- baffled longtime friends and fellow pilots who said they couldn't remember previous health or mental problems.

Osbon, 49, was instead described as an affable aviator who took his private plane for joyrides in his spare time, shied from talking politics and hosted Super Bowl parties. His father was also a pilot who died in a 1995 plane crash while on a sunken treasure hunt, according to a Wisconsin newspaper in the town where his family lived.

"I can't say whether it's shock or disbelief," said Justin Ates, a corporate jet pilot and friend who also lives in Richmond Hill. "It's hard to describe what you feel when you see something that's completely 100 percent out of character."

Initial reports indicated the pilot may have experienced a panic attack, but it was not, according to Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chief of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital - Columbia University Medical Center.

"Panic attacks are a known diagnostic entity," Lieberman told "CBS This Morming." "It's called panic disorder and is associated with anxiety with a lot of physical symptoms associated. What this pilot suffered from was not a panic attack. That's the first word put out, but the description of his behavior, background and history are not consistent with that."

What led to JetBlue pilot's midair meltdown?
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Federal criminal complaint against Clayton Osbon (PDF)

The pilot's episode, Lieberman said, is likely the cause of one of three categories: a psychotic disorder in which he broke with reality and had delusional thoughts about imminent disaster, a neurologic event that compromised his brain function - such as a mini-stroke, tumor or infection - or intoxication by a substance, either from misusing prescription medication or self-medicating with something.

Lieberman said the pilot's reported behavior suggests drug intoxication or some neurologic event are the likeliest explanations. "He was foaming at the mouth," Lieberman said. "(The pilot) had hyperacusis, meaning he was sensitive to noise, there's too much noise, told the air traffic controller to keep it down."

CBS News correspondent John Miller reports that investigators are seeking to subpoena medical records, any prescription drug records and want to carefully retrace Osbon's steps from what he ate, to what he said to how he slept in the days before the mid-air meltdown. They still don't know what caused it in a man that by all accounts was the quintessential image of a commercial pilot.

Osbon is charged with interfering with a flight crew following his bizarre outburst Tuesday on the flight that began in New York and was diverted to Amarillo, Texas. He was still being held at a hospital there Wednesday and being medically evaluated.

Under federal law, a conviction for interference with a flight crew or attendants can bring up to 20 years in prison. The offense is defined as assaulting or intimidating the crew, interfering with its duties or diminishing its ability to operate the plane.

One aviation expert said he couldn't remember a pilot being prosecuted on the charge, which reads as though it was written with passengers in mind.

"I've been doing this for more than 50 years, and I can't recall anything like this," said Denny Kelly, a private investigator in Dallas and former Braniff Airlines pilot.

A pilot with JetBlue since 2000, Osbon acted oddly and became increasingly erratic on the flight, worrying his fellow crew members so much that they locked him out of cockpit after he abruptly left for the cabin, according to a federal affidavit. He then started yelling about Jesus, al Qaeda and a possible bomb on board, forcing passengers to tackle him and tie him up with seat belt extenders for about 20 minutes until the planed landed.

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