Passengers: Pilot screamed about threats from al-Qaida, bombs aboard jet

A JetBlue captain Tuesday raced inside an airliner screaming obscenities and shouting about threats from al-Qaida and bombs aboard the aircraft, forcing an emergency landing in Amarillo, passengers said.

A half-dozen to 10 passengers jumped atop the pilot and pinned him to the floor, passengers said. Flight 191 landed at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport at 10:11 a.m., JetBlue said in a statement. The aircraft was carrying people bound from New York to Las Vegas, Nev., for a security convention, passengers said. The pilot went to a restroom, then emerged, “shouting, ‘Iraq, al-Qaida, terrorism, we’re all going down.’

It seemed like he went crazy,” said Gabriel Schonzeit, of New York City, who was seated in the third row and traveling to the security convention. JetBlue and Transportation Security Administration officials described the pilot as having a medical condition.

He was transported to Northwest Texas Hospital, officials said. He has not been identified. The crew kicked the pilot out of the cockpit, and he turned unruly, attempting to use the intercom system, which had been disabled, said Josh Redick, 41, of New York. The pilot later attempted to re-enter the cockpit, but his security code appeared to have been changed, Schonzeit said.

When the pilot began pounding on the cockpit door, a former prison security guard grabbed him by the neck and choked the captain until he collapsed, Schonzeit said. “We all knew in the front rows if he got back in the cockpit, we were going down,” Schonzeit said. The captain started pounding on the door when another passenger, a former prison security guard, grabbed the pilot by the neck and choked him until he collapsed.

“The pilot was a very large man, bigger than me,” said Schonzeit, who stands 6 feet, 3 inches and weighs 250 pounds. A flight attendant was elbowed in the ribs during the struggle to keep the captain subdued, Schonzeit said. The passengers tried to bind the captain’s wrists behind his back with a zip tie, but he broke it, Schonzeit said. “I couldn’t have broken those,” Schonzeit said.

Passengers handed over their belts to bind the pilot’s arms, Schonzeit said. Another Captain, traveling off duty on Flight 191, entered the flight deck prior to landing at Amarillo, and took over the duties of the ill crewmember once on the ground,” JetBlue’s statement said. The Airbus A320 jet departed at 7:28 a.m. from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport Airport, JetBlue said.

Passengers deplaned and went through security checks with their carry-on luggage. During the check, authorities brought in a drug dog to search a passenger's bags. JetBlue said the passengers will continue their trip on another plane. Federal airport officials are directing all inquiries to JetBlue, TSA spokesman Luis Casanova said. The FBI is investigating. “It seems to be more of a medical issue than a security issue at this point,” he said.


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