By Matt Stroud
SALEM, Ohio (Reuters) - The day JetBlue copilot Jason Dowd guided a chaotic flight to safety while its screaming captain lay pinned by passengers on the cabin floor was more than just a day of quick thinking and calm under pressure.
It was virtually ten years to the day Dowd lost his eldest sister to cancer.
Dowd, a father of two young children, still lives in suburban Salem, Ohio, where he graduated from high school, where his parents still live and his sister taught elementary school before her death on March 28, 2002, his family said.
Thirteen years apart, she was the eldest and he was the baby of the family. She helped raise him and he took her death especially hard, his parents, Lewis and Jean Dowd, said in an interview on Friday.
But a decade later, his parents, friends and neighbors were glowing with pride.
Dowd, 41, was working as First Officer on JetBlue Flight 191 from New York en route to Las Vegas on Tuesday when the aircraft's pilot, Clayton Osbon, began acting strangely.
Dowd was able to signal to flight attendants that Osbon, who witnesses said was screaming incoherently about religion and terrorists, needed to be restrained in the cabin. Dowd locked the cockpit door.
As six men tackled Osbon and held him pinned, Dowd was joined by an off-duty pilot and flew the jet with its 135 other passengers and crew to an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas.
Dowd and other crew members have not spoken publicly about the incident, though they have been questioned extensively by aviation authorities. Osbon was taken into custody and faces criminal charges.
Dowd's composure came as no surprise to his neighbor Barbara Stamp in Salem. "He's the most level-headed guy I know," said Stamp, 69.
Dowd lives with his wife Kathy and their son and daughter, both preschoolers, in a brick house on a corner lot in Salem, a town where residents commute to jobs in nearby Youngstown and Cleveland.
Dowd drives a bit more than an hour to Pittsburgh and flies from there to New York, where JetBlue Airways is based, his neighbors said.
When he is home, he attends the First Christian Church of Salem and likes to barbecue outside with his family when the weather is nice, they said.
"They're the perfect neighbors," said Stamp.
Alas, she added, the Dowds sold their three-bedroom house just this week and plan a move to another home in Salem, population about 12,000, with more garage space.
Those who know Dowd best remarked upon how quiet he is.
His father Lewis, 81, said his son was a quiet kid who never got into trouble. "Next thing you know, he wanted to fly," the elder Dowd said on Friday.
Dowd went to Kent State University, where he learned to fly, and on to jobs at now-defunct Allegheny Airlines and U.S. Airways. He started flying for JetBlue in 2003, his parents said.
(Additional reporting by John Crawley in Washington; writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; editing by Todd Eastham)