Ten passengers filed a lawsuit Wednesday against JetBlue Airways, claiming they feared for their lives when a pilot had to be physically restrained after running through the cabin yelling about Jesus and al-Qaida during a New York-to-Las Vegas flight in March.
The lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court in Queens, claims the airline was "grossly negligent" in allowing Capt. Clayton Osbon to fly.
Plaintiff Michael Bedziner, 48, of Commack, N.Y., who was headed to a conference of security consultants, said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, he has often looked around airplane cabins, suspicious of who may be a terrorist.
"But you always look to the airline crew and say, `OK, this is a group I can turn to and say we're safer.' What does this tell us? Now the very people that we're supposed to turn to for that assurance are the ones we're frightened of. And the pilot, no less," he said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.
Sharon Jones, a JetBlue spokeswoman, said the airline does not comment on pending litigation.
A flight attendant's ribs were bruised as passengers tried to restrain Osbon, but no one on board was seriously injured. The March 27 flight was forced to make an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas.
Osbon faces a hearing Friday morning in Amarillo to determine if he is mentally competent to stand trial. He faces federal charges of interfering with a flight crew. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Attorneys Jonathan Reiter and Steve Epstein, who represent the 10 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said they intend to seek information on whether there were any indications Osbon had shown signs of mental instability before March 27.
"We're going to have to delve into that," Reiter said. "That is one of the things this lawsuit is about."
According to the lawsuit and a federal indictment, witnesses on Flight 191 say Osbon ran through the cabin in a wild rant. The first officer locked him out of the cockpit and passengers wrestled Osbon to the floor.
The lawsuit also claims he was "yelling about September 11th, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, al-Qaida and terrorists."
Other comments, according to the suit, included: "we're all going down," "you better start praying right now," "I'm going to show you Iraq and Iran right now," "there's a bomb on board," and "the plane will never make it to Vegas."
Neither Bedziner nor three other plaintiffs at the news conference could provide many specific details on what they heard. They said they witnessed the commotion from various venues aboard the jetliner.
Richard Signoretti, 48, of Rosedale, N.Y., had his eyes closed and was listening to music when the woman next to him poked him to get his attention after the trouble started.
"What I got from him was, `You're not going to make it to Las Vegas.' It was extremely frightening, it was extremely unnerving. I still haven't gotten a good night's sleep," Signoretti said.
The lawsuit claims JetBlue knew or should have known Osbon was unfit to be entrusted with the aircraft as pilot.
The 10 plaintiffs, all from the metropolitan New York area, are seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress.