Doctors react to crazed clash after Jet Blue pilot’s arrest

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Psychiatric experts at Jamaica Hospital said anything from a brain tumor to weight-loss shakes to the stresses of navigating airport security could have led to the highly publicized breakdown of a JetBlue pilot on a flight that originated at Kennedy Airport last week.

YouTube videos of Flight 191 passengers restraining pilot Clayton Osbon were broadcast over the Internet and TV newscasts after his flight left JFK bound for Las Vegas March 27.

The flight was diverted to Amarillo, Texas, where Osbon was medically evaluated and on the following day charged with interfering with flight crew members and attendants.

According to the criminal complaint, Osbon started ranting incoherently before asking the plane’s first officer to take the controls, and then continued to scream about “Jesus, September 11th, Iraq, Iran and terrorists” as passengers subdued him.

Dr. Seeth Vivek, chairman of the department of psychiatry and addiction services at Jamaica Hospital, said that while he did not evaluate Osbon, researching him on Google may give an indication as to what caused the disturbing behavior.

“From everything I’ve read about him, it appears that he has had no prior history of any abnormal behavior. People describe him as being a very put-together, affable, calm individual,” he said, noting Osbon’s father, also a pilot, died in a plane crash in 1995. “When something happens suddenly, it is one of two reasons.”

Vivek said incidents such as this can have organic causes, such as a tumor or something someone ingested.

“I was reading that this guy on the side was in the business of selling shakes — weight-reduction shakes, protein shakes. If, for example, it was one of those weight reduction drinks that has a stimulant, those are known to cause paranoid psychosis,” he said. “I’m not saying every weight-reduction shake does that. It could be worth looking into as to what exactly is in those drinks and if he ingested them himself.”

A tumor, he added, could lead to a blood clot, which could trigger survival instincts that could explain the paranoid rantings.

Dr. Anthony Maffia, vice president of the department, said Osbon’s outburst seems all that more alarming due to the circumstances.

“I think our society by nature is somewhat not tolerant of these types of things and there is a certain amount of prejudice attached to it,” he said. “In this situation it becomes a little more scary. This guy had this particular event in a place with over a hundred people on the plane.”

Osbon’s wife, Connye, released a statement thanking the crew and passengers of Flight 191 for their compassionate handling of the situation, adding the family was focused on Osbon’s recovery.

“It is our belief, as Clayton’s family, that while he was clearly distressed, he was not intentionally violent toward anyone,” she wrote.

Vivek said he treats many airline industry patients at his Forest Hills office, and has learned that stresses from delays, rude passengers and low wages can add up.

“I was amazed to hear how low the salaries can be. I think it was near Rochester, the pilot was earning $21,000 and he worked as a security guard to make ends meet,” he said. “I think there are some pressures in the airline industry that people on the outside don’t know about.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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