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Doctor: Lack of sleep keyed breakdown

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POSTED: July 14, 2012 7:00 a.m.

LUBBOCK, Texas— A psychologist testified that a JetBlue Airways pilot who screamed about religion and terrorists during a flight had “a brief psychotic disorder” due to lack of sleep, according to a transcript of the trial obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

A judge found Clayton Osbon of Richmond Hill not guilty by reason of insanity during a brief, unpublicized trial earlier this month in Texas. Osbon had been charged with interference with a flight crew for his behavior on a March 27 flight from New York to Las Vegas.

Passengers said they wrestled the pilot to the floor after he ran through the plane’s cabin yelling about Jesus and al-Qaida. The flight was diverted and landed safely in Texas.

According to the transcripts, forensic neuropsychologist Robert E.H. Johnson testified that Osbon’s disorder lasted about a week after the incident. Johnson didn’t specify how long Osbon may have gone without sleep, and his psychiatric evaluation was sealed during the trial, but he said he determined Osbon suffered from brief psychotic disorder and delusions “secondary to sleep deprivation.”

Osborn, who was taken to a mental health facility after the flight, could not appreciate the nature and quality of his actions and didn’t appreciate their wrongfulness, Johnson testified.

JetBlue declined to comment on the psychologist’s testimony, citing no medical authority on the topic. But company spokeswoman Sharon Jones said Osbon did not fly March 24 or March 25 and worked a round-trip flight March 26 that gave him 17 hours of off time leading to the March 27 flight.

FAA rules going into effect late next year add specifics to how much time a pilot must get to rest. The new rule requires a pilot have a 10-hour rest period, including eight hours of uninterrupted sleep opportunity.

Currently, rules specify that a pilot must get nine hours of rest, reducible to eight hours, but do not factor in sleep opportunity.
The Federal Aviation Administration is still investigating, spokesman Lynn Lunsford said, adding: “It’s still too early to draw conclusions about any potential actions that might occur as the result of this incident.”

Osbon is at a mental health facility in Fort Worth. Court records show he is scheduled for another hearing early next month where the burden will be on him to show “by clear and convincing evidence” that his release would not pose future danger.

U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson sealed Johnson’s psychiatric evaluation and said during the trial that it would remain sealed.

At least 10 passengers sued JetBlue after the incident, claiming they feared for their lives and that the airline was “grossly negligent” in allowing Osbon to fly.

 

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