Peter Karoczkai got an early indication that something was amiss with the pilot on his JetBlue flight when the man forced his way into the bathroom while a woman was washing her hands.
"This is crazy, the captain just broke into the bathroom," Karoczkai recalled the woman, a co-worker, saying. The two joked about how the pilot must have eaten some spicy food.
Things got serious quickly on Tuesday for Karoczkai and other passengers aboard JetBlue Airways Flight 191, which departed from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and was headed for McCarran International Airport. Passengers described frenzied moments when the pilot, Clayton Osbon, moved quickly from the back of the plane to a locked cockpit and began banging on the door while screaming incoherently.
"Bring it to idle. Bring it down to throttle. Iraq, Iran, Israel. We're at war," Marc Sellouk recalled the pilot shouting.
Karoczkai and Sellouk, both of New York City, were two of several men who restrained Osbon and took him to the floor .
Others heard Osbon scream, "We're going down!"
The men described the pandemonium on the flight while waiting in McCarran's baggage claim area several hours after their expected arrival time Tuesday afternoon.
Between six to eight men initially restrained Osbon. The plane made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas.
The passengers described Osbon as taller than 6 feet with short, blond hair. He was restrained for 20 to 30 minutes until the plane landed in Texas.
'he would have crashed the plane'
Sal Visone, who helped restrain Osbon, said the pilot was simulating flying the aircraft with his arms. The passengers who took Osbon to the floor "were borderline surgical" in their attempt not to hurt him, Visone said.
"If this guy was in the cockpit, he would have crashed the plane," Visone said.
While Osbon suffered his breakdown, some passengers videotaped the incident. Some female passengers were crying.
Osbon was taken to a hospital after suffering a "medical situation" on board that forced the co-pilot to take over the plane.
Osbon seemed disoriented, jittery and constantly sipped water when he first marched through the cabin, then began to rant about threats linked to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan after crew members tried to calm him down in the back, passengers said.
Josh Redick, who was sitting near the middle of the plane, said the captain seemed "irate" and was "spouting off about Afghanistan and souls and al-Qaida."
The outburst came weeks after an American Airlines flight attendant was taken off a plane for rambling about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and her fears the plane would crash.
Gabriel Schonzeit, who was sitting in the third row, said the captain said there could be a bomb on board the flight.
"He started screaming about al-Qaida and possibly a bomb on the plane and Iraq and Iran and about how we were all going down," Schonzeit told the Amarillo Globe-News.
The captain was tackled by several passengers after he tried to re-enter the cockpit, which had been locked by the co-pilot, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.
OFF-DUTY CAPTAIN TAKES OVER
An off-duty airline captain who was a passenger on the flight entered the flight deck before landing in Amarillo and took over the duties of the ill captain, the airline said in a statement.
The captain was taken to a local medical facility after the plane landed, the airline said without elaborating.
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 in Amarillo.
"They pulled one guy out on a stretcher and put him in an ambulance," said Helton, who went to the airport with his fiancée to see one of her sons off as he joined the Navy.
Authorities interviewed each of the passengers once they had landed and left the plane, said 22-year-old passenger Grant Heppes of New York City.
"I had no idea it was an employee until it really started happening," Heppes said. "I just assumed it was a passenger who flipped out."
The FBI was coordinating an investigation with the airport police, Amarillo police, the FAA and the Transportation Safety Administration, said agency spokeswoman Lydia Maese in Dallas. She declined to comment on arrests.
The flight left New York around 7 a.m. and was in the air for 3½ hours before landing in Texas. The passengers boarded another plane for Las Vegas several hours later.
SUCH INCIDENTS 'PRETTY RARE'
John Cox, an aviation safety consultant and former airline pilot, said incidents in which pilots become mentally incapacitated during a flight are "pretty rare." He said he could recall two or three other examples in the more than 40 years he has been following commercial aviation.
Airlines and the FAA 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 in which first officers deferred to more experienced captains with tragic results.
Unruly pilots and crew have disrupted flights in the past.
Earlier this month, an American Airlines flight attendant took over the public-address system on a flight bound for Chicago and spoke for 15 minutes about Sept. 11 and the safety of their plane, saying, "I'm not responsible for this plane crashing," several passengers said.
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. 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 was injured.
In August 2010, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater pulled the emergency chute on a flight from Pittsburgh after it landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport. He went on the public-address system, swore at a passenger, grabbed a beer and slid down to the tarmac.
He was sentenced to probation, counseling and substance abuse treatment for attempted criminal mischief.
The FAA probably will review the 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 the pilot's psychological condition. Pilots are required to disclose all physical and psychological conditions and medications.
When the passengers finally made it to Las Vegas, some embraced and posed for pictures. Visone said JetBlue said it would pay for the flight, while also offering to pay for a second future flight worth "double the value" on JetBlue.
Passengers received vouchers for free taxi rides from McCarran to their destinations.
Karoczkai smiled when asked whether Tuesday's flight was the craziest moment in his life.
"We're definitely having an adult beverage tonight."