OTHER VOICES

Pilot mental health

Posted April 09, 2012, at 6:14 p.m.

The crisis aboard JetBlue Flight 191 from New York to Las Vegas recently was frightening, to be sure. We are glad we weren’t passengers on that flight when captain Clayton Osbon suffered what has been described as a mental breakdown.

Jason Dowd, Osbon’s co-pilot, said the veteran pilot began pushing buttons and flipping switches, muttering about religion and telling air traffic controllers to be quiet. The co-pilot had the presence of mind to suggest that the captain go to the bathroom, and when Osbon did, the co-pilot and another JetBlue pilot on board locked themselves in the cockpit. Osbon tried to get back into the cockpit and reportedly tried to open the plane’s outer door. He urged the co-pilot to get the plane on the ground quickly and told passengers to say their prayers.

Now, Osbon has been charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with interfering with the flight crew, an unusual charge for a commercial pilot that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

But the incident should raise concerns about the mental health of those who serve us as pilots, ship’s crew, bus drivers, engineers and the like. How many other Clayton Osbons are out there? JetBlue says Osbon passed a mandatory health check some four months ago, but did it include any kind of mental evaluation? We don’t know, but perhaps it should have.

The sad fact is we do a terrible job of identifying and dealing with mental issues in the country. We still attach a stigma to those who seek help. Many health plans cover only limited care for mental issues and for those without insurance, care is a nightmare of neglect and denial. When budgets have to be cut, they too often are trimmed in areas of mental health care.

Clayton Osbon needs such help, and we doubt he will get it behind bars.

The Eagle, Bryan-College Station, Texas (April 4)

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