Airplane captain freaks out, yells about bomb on board, JetBlue passengers say

Airplane captain freaks out, yells about bomb on board, JetBlue passengers say

March 27th, 2012 by Associated Press in Local - Breaking News

Officials remove baggage from JetBlue flight 191 and begin searching for explosives at Amarillo Rick Husband International Airport in Amarillo, Texas, Tuesday, March 27, 2012 after an unruly pilot caused the flight to make an emergency landing. A JetBlue flight bound for Las Vegas landed unexpectedly in Texas on Tuesday after the captain was taken ill, the airline said. A passenger said a man she and other passengers believed was the captain began yelling about a bomb and had to be restrained.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

AMARILLO, Texas - The captain of a JetBlue aircraft yelled about a bomb and had to be locked out of the cockpit and restrained Tuesday as the Las Vegas-bound flight was diverted to Texas, passengers said.

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

Grant Heppes, a 22-year-old passenger from New York City, told The Associated Press that a man in a JetBlue uniform walked from the cockpit to the back of the plane, but that he started to become disruptive when he was barred from getting back inside.

"Once he got back to the front of the plane I heard him scream, 'Let me in!'" Heppes said.

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

Heidi Karg, a passenger on the flight, told CNN that the man was shouting "I need the code, gimme the code, I need to get in there." The pilot used the announcement system to call for someone to restrain him and some male passengers wrestled him to the ground, she said.

"We heard the word 'bomb,'" Karg said. "We didn't know exactly what was going on."

Most of the passengers were "shocked and confused," Heppes said by phone from the airport at Amarillo.

"Nobody was very loud except for the people trying to help out. Everybody was just standing up and not really sure what was going on. It was very hard to tell," he said.

An off-duty captain who just happened to be a passenger on the flight went to the flight deck and took over the duties of the ill captain "once on the ground," the airline said in a statement. It didn't elaborate.

Shane Helton, 39, of Quinlan, Okla., said he saw emergency and security personnel coming on and off the plane as it sat on the tarmac at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport.

"They pulled one guy out on a stretcher and put him in an ambulance," said Helton, who went to the airport with his fiancee to see one of her sons off as he joined the Navy.

Helton said the ambulance then sat on the tarmac next to the plane for more than 30 minutes.

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

Once on the ground and off the plane, authorities interviewed each of the passengers, Heppes said.

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.

She declined to comment on whether any arrest had been made.

In 2008, an Air Canada co-pilot had a mental breakdown on a flight from Toronto to London and was forcibly removed from the cockpit, restrained and sedated. A flight attendant with flying experience helped the pilot safely make an emergency landing in Ireland, and none of the 146 passengers and nine crew members on board were injured.