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JetBlue hero is Kent State grad

By Carol Biliczky
Beacon Journal staff writer

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The JetBlue pilot who averted disaster by locking an erratic captain out of the cockpit is a Kent State graduate.

Jason Dowd’s quick thinking may have saved the lives of fellow crew and passengers on Tuesday’s ill-fated flight from New York to Las Vegas that made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas.

“The co-pilot was brilliant in keeping that plane together and nobody was hurt,” said Andrew Thomas, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Akron who writes widely on airline safety.

Still, little is known about Dowd, 41, who graduated from Salem High in 1990 and attended KSU from 1990 to 1995, earning a bachelor’s degree in aeronautic technology in 1995.

Tim Palcho, chief instructor in KSU’s aeronautics program, said Dowd may have learned some of his decision-making skills at KSU. But the university program drills would-be pilots on more common crises such as smoke in the cockpit and engine failure.

Pilots undergo further training by airlines that hire them as they step up the ladder to a major carrier such as JetBlue.

“That training at the airline prepared him for the situation that he encountered,” Palcho said.

UA’s Thomas said Dowd took the right steps when confronted by the bizarre behavior and religious ramblings of pilot Clayton Osbon.

Dowd locked Osbon out of the cockpit, changed the combination and alerted flight attendants to prepare passengers to intervene — all textbook examples of what to do during an in-flight emergency.

These kinds of incidents happen rarely, he pointed out, but some are bound to occur given that 26,000 planes take off every day nationwide.

Dowd’s quick thinking raises comparisons to Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who successfully ditched a disabled US Airways flight into New York’s Hudson River in 2009 without any injuries.

Dowd’s heroism also may put him front and center in this year’s Memorial Day parade in the 12,300-person city of Salem, Mayor John Berlin said.

The city would love to showcase Dowd in a convertible with a large sign at the annual event.

Berlin said Dowd’s wife, Kathy, has agreed to be a guest in the parade when he reached her by phone this week.

But when he asked if Dowd was home yet with her and his two children, she ducked the question, Berlin said. JetBlue referred questions about Dowd’s whereabouts to the FBI.

Dowd’s wife and other family members in Columbiana County did not return phone calls.

The mayor said he knows little about Salem’s newest hero other than he has helped his father grind tree trunks in his spare time.

“We’re awfully proud of him here in town,” Berlin said.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3729.