(CBS News) What might have caused a JetBlue pilot to have an apparent psychiatric episode is still a mystery in the wake of Tuesday's bizarre incident on a flight bound for Las Vegas.
Federal prosecutors filed charges late Wednesday against the pilot, Clayton Frederick Osbon, 49, in U.S. district court. He's charged with interfering with inflight crew members, the same charge sometimes levied against unruly passengers or those who refuse to turn off electronics or comply with other instructions. If convicted, Osbon could face a possible 20-year sentence and a $250,000 fine.
What may have caused Osbon to yell about a bomb, tell passengers to pray, and bang on the cockpit door?
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," he said. "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."
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."
The pilot's specific diagnosis is currently unknown, but Lieberman said doctors may already know the basis of the problem.
"It's nothing that's going to take a long time to solve," he said. "All they have to do is do is an examination, take a careful history, run some laboratory tests, do a brain scan and you have a diagnosis."
Based on the information available from the scene, Lieberman pointed to a possible influence from a substance. Osbon is reportedly a direct marketer for health shakes sold by Visalus Sciences, a marketing company based in Troy, Mich.
Lieberman said, "If you said, 'what is your guess,' one thing that I noticed is that he apparently had been selling a diet supplement. So, one might infer that he was in some kind of nutritional program to lose weight, in some kind of diet. In these substances there's stimulants or when you go on a diet you tamper with your brain chemistry. And this could have been a factor."
For Lieberman's full analysis of the pilot's state of mind, watch the video in the player above.