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JetBlue suspends captain following in-flight meltdown

Tony Antolino and Laurie Dhue, passengers aboard the JetBlue flight that made an emergency landing after the pilot had a mid-air meltdown, talk to TODAY's Ann Curry about the bizarre incident.

JetBlue announced Wednesday that it is suspending the captain whose bizarre behavior prompted his fellow co-pilot to lock him out of the cockpit on a flight from New York to Las Vegas. 

Clayton Osbon, 49,  has been a pilot at JetBlue since 2000, the airline's first year of flying. The company said a "medical situation" occurred onboard the plane on Tuesday but wouldn't elaborate.

Passengers said the pilot was yelling and acting unruly in the cabin after he was locked out of the cockpit. A group of passengers tackled the captain and restrained him until the plane landed in Amarillo, Texas.

JetBlue spokeswoman Allison Steinberg said Wednesday that Osbon was taken off active duty pending review of the incident. 

Two passengers aboard JetBlue Flight 191 recounted Wednesday the dramatic and bizarre situation of the plane's captain leaving the cockpit, acting erratically and eventually being subdued. JetBlue's CEO, meanwhile, said the captain was a "consummate professional."

The captain "became increasingly agitated," passenger Tony Antolino told TODAY's Ann Curry, adding that several passengers grabbed the pilot, "tackled him to the ground" and sat on him.

Osbon, since charged with interfering with a flight crew and now getting medical care, left the cockpit, tried to enter an occupied lavatory and then became increasingly agitated when he couldn't get back into the cockpit.

"The first thing I saw was the captain running down the aisle," passenger Laurie Dhue said on TODAY, adding he was "banging on the door, saying 'Let me in! Let me in!' " Dhue credited the "brave people on board" for handling the situation, saying it was "literally like a scene from a movie."

JetBlue CEO Dave Barger, also appearing on TODAY, told host Matt Lauer that he knew the captain personally and said there were no signs that pointed to the in-flight meltdown.

"It was a true team effort at 35,000 feet yesterday," Barger said of the response by passengers and crew.

JetBlue CEO Dave Barger speaks out after a JetBlue flight made an emergency landing due to a pilot's mid-air meltdown.

Flight 191 was scheduled from John F. Kennedy Airport to Las Vegas, but was diverted to Amarillo, Texas.

On Tuesday, Antolino told NBC New York the captain began yelling about an unspecified threat linked to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. "They're going to take us down, they're taking us down, they're going to take us down. Say the Lord's prayer, say the Lord's prayer," the captain screamed, according to Antolino.

A JetBlue flight made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas, Tuesday after the pilot had a "medical situation" and had to be restrained by passengers. NBC's Tom Costello reports.

John Cox, an aviation safety consultant and former airline pilot, told the Associated Press that incidents in which pilots become mentally incapacitated during a flight are "pretty rare." He said he could only recall two or three other examples in the more than 40 years he has been following commercial aviation.

Airlines and the FAA strongly encourage pilots to assert themselves if they think safety is being jeopardized, even if it means contradicting a captain's orders, Cox said. Aviation safety experts have studied several cases where first officers deferred to more experienced captains with tragic results.

In-flight outbursts by airline crewmembers are rare, but they do happen.

Earlier this month, an American Airlines flight attendant was taken off a plane for rambling about 9/11 and her fears that the plane would crash. "I'm not responsible for this plane crashing," the crew member said over the public-address system, according to passengers. Passengers wrestled the flight attendant into a seat while the plane was grounded at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; the flight attendant was hospitalized.

In 2008, an Air Canada co-pilot was forcibly removed from a Toronto-to-London flight, restrained and sedated after having a mental breakdown on a flight.

The FAA is likely to review the unidentified captain's medical certificate — essentially a seal of approval that the pilot is healthy. All pilots working for scheduled airlines must have a first-class medical certificate. The certificates must be renewed every six months to a year, depending on the pilot's age. To receive the certificate, the pilot must receive a physical examination by an FAA-designated medical examiner that includes questions about pilot's psychological condition. Pilots are required to disclose all physical and psychological conditions and medications.

Passenger Charlie Restivo thought it was clear the pilot suffered a medical episode. "I don't think when he got up this morning that that's what he was intending to do," Restivo told the AP. "Unfortunately, I just think it happened to him."

The Associated Press and NBC New York contributed to this report.

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