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Captain with 'medical situation' disrupts JetBlue flight

LAS VEGAS — A JetBlue captain who screamed that Iraq or Afghanistan had planted a bomb on a Las Vegas-bound flight was locked out of the cockpit, tackled and restrained by passengers Tuesday, passengers said.

The captain of Flight 191 from New York JFK International Airport had a "medical situation" and the pilot who subsequently took command of the aircraft elected to land in Amarillo, Texas, about 10 a.m., JetBlue Airways said in a statement.

Josh Redick, a passenger sitting near the middle of the plane, said the pilot "stormed out" of the cockpit.

Tony Antolino, a 40-year-old executive for a security firm, said that the captain walked to the back of the plane and seemed disoriented and agitated, then began yelling about an unspecified threat linked to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They're going to take us down, they're taking us down, they're going to take us down. Say the Lord's prayer, say the Lord's prayer," the captain screamed, according to Antolino.

"He was irate," Redick said. "He was spouting off about Afghanistan and souls and al-Qaida."

Gabriel Schonzeit, who was sitting in the third row, said the captain said there could be a bomb on board. "He started screaming about al-Qaida and possibly a bomb on the plane and Iraq and Iran and about how we were all going down," Schonzeit told the Amarillo Globe-News.

The captain had been exhibiting "erratic behavior," so the pilot locked him out of the cockpit, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

Antolino, who said he sat in the 10th row, said he and three others tackled the captain as he ran for the cockpit door, pinned him and held him down while the plane landed at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. "That's how we landed," he said. "There were four of us on top of him. Everybody else kind of took a seat and that's how we landed."

JetBlue said the ill captain was taken to a medical facility in Amarillo.

Authorities interviewed each of the passengers once they were on the ground and off the plane, according to passenger Grant Heppes, 22, of New York City.

The FBI was coordinating an investigation with the airport police, Amarillo police, the FAA and the Transportation Safety Administration, according to agency spokeswoman Lydia Maese in Dallas.

The FAA will review the captain's medical certificate. All pilots working for scheduled airlines must have a first class medical certificate. The certificates are required to be renewed every year if the pilot is younger than 40, every six months if 40 or older.

To obtain a certificate, the pilot must receive a physical examination by an FAA-designated medical examiner that includes questions about the pilot's psychological condition. Pilots are required to disclose all existing physical and psychological conditions and medications.

The captain's behavior was reminiscent of another embarrassing moment for the airline involving a crew member, when a flight attendant named Steven Slater opened a plane's emergency chute, grabbed a beer from the beverage cart and slid down to the tarmac at Kennedy Airport in August 2010 after getting into a dispute with a passenger who stood up before the seat belt light had been turned off.

Captain with 'medical situation' disrupts JetBlue flight 03/27/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 10:52pm]
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