Passengers recount fears during captain breakdown

By Oskar Garcia

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 28 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Authorities interviewed each passenger in Amarillo, according to 22-year-old passenger Grant Heppes, of New York City. A few hours later the passengers boarded another flight to Las Vegas.

Shane Helton, 39, of Quinlan, Okla., said he saw emergency personnel carry a man from the aircraft on a stretcher and put him into an ambulance on the tarmac in Amarillo. Helton said he was at the airport with his fiancÉe to see one of her sons off as he joined the Navy.

The FBI was coordinating an investigation with the airport police, Amarillo police, the FAA and the Transportation Safety Administration, said agency spokeswoman Lydia Maese in Dallas. She declined to comment on arrests.

Airlines and the FAA strongly encourage pilots to assert themselves if they think safety is being jeopardized, even if it means contradicting a captain's orders, Cox said. Aviation safety experts have studied several cases where first officers deferred to more experienced captains with tragic results.

Unruly pilots, crew and passengers have disrupted flights in the past.

Just hours after Osbon's breakdown, crew aboard a US Airways flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Fort Myers, Fla., had to restrain a disruptive female passenger. Lee County Port Authority police spokeswoman Victoria Moreland said a passenger from the flight was arrested Tuesday afternoon but declined to elaborate.

Earlier this month, an American Airlines flight attendant took over the public-address system on a flight bound for Chicago and spoke for 15 minutes about Sept. 11 and the safety of their plane, saying, "I'm not responsible for this plane crashing," according to several passengers.

Passengers wrestled the flight attendant into a seat while the plane was grounded at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; the flight attendant was hospitalized.

In 2008, an Air Canada co-pilot was forcibly removed from a Toronto-to-London flight, restrained and sedated after having a mental breakdown on a flight.

The FAA is likely to review Osbon's medical certificate — essentially a seal of approval that the pilot is healthy. All pilots working for scheduled airlines must have a first-class medical certificate. The certificates must be renewed every six months to a year, depending on the pilot's age. To receive the certificate, the pilot must receive a physical examination by an FAA-designated medical examiner that includes questions about pilot's psychological condition. Pilots are required to disclose all physical and psychological conditions and medications.

Charlie Restivo, who was heading to the Las Vegas security conference and sat in the plane's fourth row, said he thought it was clear that the pilot had suffered a medical episode.

"I don't think when he got up this morning that that's what he was intending to do," he said. "Unfortunately, I just think it happened to him."

Blaney reported from Lubbock, Texas. Associated Press writers Samantha Bomkamp in New York and Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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