JetBlue pilot who had midair meltdown sues airline for more than $14M

A former JetBlue Airways Corp. pilot whose midflight breakdown three years ago forced an emergency landing of the plane he was co-piloting sued the airline for more than $14 million on Friday. He claims the airline acted negligently in permitting him to fly despite signs of mental health issues.

Clayton Osbon, 52, filed the lawsuit three days after a Germanwings co-pilot crashed a passenger jet into a mountain in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. German prosecutors believe the co-pilot intentionally crashed the plane and may have been hiding a mental illness from his employer.

Osbon said his erratic behavior stemmed from a “complex partial brain seizure” he suffered before the flight, Reuters reported.

The complaint also stated that “JetBlue failed to make any effort to ensure that Captain Osbon was fit to fly,” Reuters reported.

During a 2012 JetBlue flight from New York to Las Vegas, Osbon ran through the plane screaming about terrorism and asking passengers to embrace religion, according to The Wall Street Journal. Another co-pilot locked Osbon out of the cockpit, diverted the plane and made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas.

Though Osbon faced criminal charges for interfering with a flight crew, a federal judge found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

Three dozen passengers on the flight later sued JetBlue, claiming the airline had been grossly negligent in allowing Osbon to fly.

Incidents like Osbon’s breakdown and the recent Germanwings disaster have prompted some to criticize airlines for what they see as insufficient psychological screenings and mental health checkups for flight crews.

“When you get hired at an airline, they do a psychological test. And that’s the last you get of a psychological test,” NewsHour aviation specialist Miles O’Brien said in an interview with Gwen Ifill. “The first-class medical done by medical examiners every six months doesn’t include a psychological test. They might say, hey, how you doing, that kind of thing, but nothing much more beyond that.”

“Pilots who are are grappling with mental health issues are loathe to self-report, because it might mean the end of their career,” O’Brien wrote. “Airlines need to work to change the stigma.”