March 29, 2012 at 6:54 PM ET
In the wake of JetBlue captain Clayton Osbon's mid-air meltdown on Tuesday, many are calling first officer Jason Dowd, the co-pilot of flight 191, a hero.
Pilots train for a range of in-flight mishaps including sick passengers, emergency landings and terrorist attacks, the Associated Press reports. But Dowd faced the rarest of scenarios: deciding whether to lock his incapacitated captain out of the cockpit and make an emergency landing after Osbon began exhibiting bizarre behavior.
Osbon, 49, is charged with interfering with a flight crew and, if convicted, could face 20 years in prison.
According to court documents, Dowd was "really worried" when Osbon told him "we need to take a leap of faith." Concerned about Osbon's behavior, Dowd suggested that they invite an off-duty JetBlue captain who was flying as a passenger to come into the cockpit
Instead, witness accounts describe Osbon telling his co-pilot "things just don't matter" and sprinting down the center aisle — yelling jumbled remarks about Sept. 11 and Iran.
The off-duty captain then joined Dowd, and from inside the locked cockpit, which Osbon tried to re-enter by banging on the door, the co-pilot gave an order through the intercom to restrain Osbon, according to the documents, which don't mention Dowd by name.
Just north of Texas, the Kansas City air traffic center handed the A320 over to Amarillo airport tower controllers to handle the emergency landing, according to people familiar with the matter and air traffic control tapes released by LiveATC.net.
"Control tower: (Jet) Blue 191 declare emergency," crackled the radio at the Amarillo control tower. "Uh, we're going to need priority to get into Amarillo and, uh, we're going to need a few minutes to get everything straightened out."
The responses from the cockpit were clipped as controllers read out coordinates. The crew asked for security and medical help to meet them on the tarmac. JetBlue was cleared to land eight miles from the runway and within a few moments was down safely. The diversion took 20 minutes.
JetBlue said it had turned over the plane's cockpit voice recorder to the FBI.
The "black box" should allow investigators to compare at least some of the flight deck conversations and other sounds with statements from witnesses about the harrowing flight.
Dowd, an Ohio native who still lives in his hometown of Salem, is staying out of the public eye for now, but a wave of overnight fame — much like 'Miracle on the Hudson' Capt. Chesley Sullenberger — likely awaits. JetBlue says the decision on whether to go public is up to him, but they're not commenting more out of respect for his privacy.
JetBlue has praised Dowd's actions, along with crew members and an off-duty pilot who stepped in to assist.
"Knowing my son, he would think that he's not a hero. He just did what he was paid to do," Dowd's mother, Jean Beatrice Dowd, told CNN.
"That's just his job, and he loves his job. He's just a quiet man."
His mother-in-law Ruth Ann Kostal said Thursday that Dowd doesn't think he's a hero, but she's not surprised he acted cool under pressure.
"I'm glad for those people he was the co-pilot that day," Kostal said. "Thank God, he was there."
Dowd hasn't been able to come home yet because he's still being interviewed by federal authorities in New York, Kostal said. He has made no public comments about Tuesday's flight.
Passengers, including those who helped restrain Osbon, also credit Dowd for landing their plane safely.
"I think the co-pilot is really the hero here," passenger Tony Antolino told TODAY. "He had the instincts to recognize that something was going horribly wrong in the cockpit."
David Gonzalez, a 50-year-old former New York corrections office from Tannersville, Pa., who helped tackle Osbon, credits Dowd for getting the captain out of the cockpit and locking the door so he couldn't get back in.
"It's because of his actions that we're here," Gonzalez said of Dowd.
Public relations experts say there are big pros and cons to going public, like what "Sully" and his co-captain Jeff Skiles experienced in the aftermath of their emergency landing in the Hudson River.
"For some folks it's a lot to deal with — especially all at once," said Dr. Ron Bishop, a professor of culture and communication at Drexel University in Philadelphia. "It seems given all the outlets and different means in which we communicate, the attention paid to a person in that situation is ramped up considerably."
David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC, a leading public relations agency, said if Dowd comes forward, it would likely give JetBlue a needed public relations boost.
"JetBlue needs someone to really step the forefront. It's the second person there that's gone berserk they need to show that they've got good and heroic employees," he said.
In 2010, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater pulled the emergency chute on a flight 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 onto the tarmac. He was sentenced to probation, counseling and substance abuse treatment for attempted criminal mischief.
This week, JetBlue reminded all of its 14,000 employees, including 2,200 pilots, of counseling services and other assistance. The company offered legal help to the crew, including Osbon. Passengers will receive a refund for their one-way fare as well as a voucher for twice the value of their original ticket.
The airline also said it would review the incident to see whether the company should change policies on recruitment, training and health screening.
"We believe that our recruitment practices and screening policies are thoughtful, and we believe they work well," said JetBlue spokeswoman Jenny Dervin. "We're going to take a look at everything in relation to the incident itself. Everything is always up for review," Dervin said, noting the carrier follows Federal Aviation Administration guidelines for pilot fitness evaluations.
Like other airlines, JetBlue offers its flight crew a "safety time out" option that allows them to miss work when they are too tired. Dervin said employees face no penalty for calling a time out, but they will be asked the reason. Dervin said she didn't know how frequently the time outs are used. She said the airline deals with each one on a case-by-case basis and uses them to spot trends in flight crew fatigue. The Federal Aviation Administration had no comment on the flight controller details, saying the matter was still under investigation.
As much as JetBlue likely wants to put Slater's and Osbon's outbursts behind them, Johnson said there's another reason why Dowd may not want to go public.
"He's probably just very low key and just thinks he did what he was supposed to do," Johnson said.
Information from NBC News, the Associated Press and Reuters was included in this report.
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