Sometimes it’s difficult being a physician because you become aware of situations and know intuitively it’s in your ballpark, but others don’t think that way first and assume malevolence or whatever. (I saw the pilot situation frequently described as a “meltdown.”)
When I first heard about the JetBlue pilot who “went crazy” on a flight I knew it was almost certainly going to be discovered to be a medical and/or psychiatric (not that the tw0 are totally unrelated) issue, before I heard any of the details.
They don’t just let anybody, medically or mentally, become an airline Captain. Many (probably most?) are ex-military pilots. All have many hours in a cockpit before they become Captains. All undergo FAA mandated routine medical assessments and random drug and alcohol testing. The idea that a Captain would just emotionally lose it on the plane in midair is just too hard to believe. It is not beyond the realm of possiblity I don’t guess, but a medical explanation seems much more likely.
Now the JetBlue CEO has essentially confirmed my initial suspicions.
The captain, Clayton Osbon, became incoherent and the co-pilot locked him out of the cockpit. Osbon began shouting about threats from al-Qaida, Iran, Iraq and bombs aboard flight, and was subdued by several passengers, including an off-duty police officer. He was strapped down and later transported to a local medical facility.
Barger said Obson was “under the custody of the FBI.”
“I’ve known the captain personally for a long period of time,” Barger said. “There [was] no indication of this at all in the past. Consummate professional.”
On Tuesday, JetBlue’s stated that Osbon had a “medical situation,” but the CEO admitted it was more than that.
“What happened at altitude and the call into the FAA is that we had a medical situation and that’s how we responded,” Barger said. “Clearly, especially in today’s [real-time] media, we know that it also became a security situation. I think as we know less than 24 hours later, it started medical but—clearly more than that.”
The key indication here is “became incoherent.” This is clearly most likely not a guy who is going through a divorce or whatever and is having an emotional outburst. This is describing a man who is not in his right mind.
Had this happened on the street the cops would have been called and the guy would have been taken to the local ER as should happen and hopefully he would get a thorough work up and eval and no one would think anything of it. But since it happened to a Captain in midair and he happened to be babbling about terrorism, then it’s a national story.
The guy needs brian imagining, labs, a physical exam, etc. This feels organic. (Meaning in doctor speak having an underlying medical cause as opposed to being primarily psychiatric.) Did he have a medication reaction? Was he having a seizure? Did he have a stroke? Did his blood sugar drop? (Presumably he isn’t a known diabetic.) Does he have a tumor? Did he have a metabolic abnormality of some sort? Etc. There has to be an explanation for becoming incoherent. If all that checks out it is possible he has a primary psychiatric diagnosis, but it would be rare to develop a severe psychiatric disorder later in life after a life of presumed good mental health.
He is now “under the custody of the FBI.” While there is probably no way around this, it is unfortunate. I hope the FBI and whoever makes these decisions has the good sense to see this for what it almost certainly is and won’t be pressured to throw the book at the guy due to the high profile of the case. Given some of my interactions with the legal system (professional not personal) I’m not optimistic.