Stories of strange behavior in unlikely places are very interesting to all of us and make for a lot of dinner time and workplace chatter. The problem is we all want to talk before we actually know the details. The pilot in this case could have had some serious medical issues that led to these events and even an allergic reaction to food eaten might be a potential cause. What if someone slipped him some sort of drug prior to the flight without his knowledge? (This would be an entirely new and different type of aircraft “hijacking”.)
Normally, The TerryReport does not engage in idle speculation about what might have happened in major public events. This case appears to be so out of character for this pilot, based on his record, that it is legitimate to at least pose the question for consideration. Breakdowns, as they used to be called, can happen to people who don’t show signs, but it is the exception. Normally, a person who is close to a psychological malfunction shows warning signs to friends, family and co-workers leading up to the event. In this case, there have been no public reports of any signs of impending disorder with this pilot. The possibility of outside intervention has to be considered, along with all the other options.
All of this could fall under the heading of “when good people go bad”, to put it in a kind of low level venacular. When trained, intelligent and otherwise careful people do something out of the ordinary and out of character, we owe them and the circumstances the benefit of some doubt. Weeks or months from now, details will likely emerge as to what actually happened. By then, we will all be chattering about something else and will have virtually forgotten this incident.
We should keep in mind that it is highly unusual for someone who is a well trained professional to suddenly lapse into what appears, in the case of the JetBlue pilot, to be a psychotic episode while on the job. An Egypt Air flight was crashed into the Atlantic by the pilot in 1999, but such events are so rare that, to my knowledge, they are barely even studied as an important phenomenon. Pilots train all of their adult lives in how to keep an aircraft safely airborne and doing anything otherwise obviously goes entirely counter to that training and professional standing. Their life’s bias is to keep people safe and get them safely where they want to go.
Doug Terry, 3.28.12