When the pilot of JetBlue Flight 191 bolted through the plane's cabin, banged on the cockpit door and screamed about Iraq, bombs and al-Qaida -- all at 35,000 feet -- passengers thought of doomed 9/11 Flight 93.
Paul Babakitis, 51, of Jericho, a retired NYPD sergeant, watched the 49-year-old pilot's meltdown Tuesday afternoon from a seventh-row seat. So did Jason Levin, 39, of Farmingville, in Seat 1C. Tony Antolino, 40, of Rye, from the 10th row, also sensed something was amiss.
Like United Flight 93 passengers, they sprang into action when Babakitis asked for help to wrestle pilot Clayton Osbon to the floor as a co-pilot steered the craft to safety.
"We have to get him on the ground," said Babakitis, recalling the moment Osbon's erratic behavior began. "They all understood."
Babakitis, who heads PGB Executive Investigations, helped collar Osbon for several minutes as the plane -- en route to Las Vegas -- was diverted to Amarillo, Texas. The fast-moving in-flight drama evoked the horrors of 9/11, according to several passengers on board.
"Of course I thought of 9/11, where I was at," said Babakitis, who worked in the NYPD's command center helping coordinate the response to the attacks.
The passengers of Flight 93 attacked the terrorists who took over the plane after they realized it had been hijacked. The Boeing 757 crashed in Shanksville, Pa. No one survived. Three other hijacked planes crashed that day into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people.
Tuesday, Babakitis and about a half dozen of his fellow passengers were pressed into service, and were determined to avoid the same fate.
"What I said to myself," Babakitis mused Wednesday, after he arrived at a security conference in Las Vegas, 'This is not happening on this flight if I can do anything about it.' We held him down. I individually could not have held him down myself."
Just what happened to make the respected pilot unravel is being investigated.
But the quick-thinking passengers who rose to defuse a potential tragedy said they know they acted properly and may have saved the lives of 141 passengers and crew.
"Everyone came together as one, came together as New Yorkers to stop the situation," said Levin, a security system installer. "In those five seconds when adrenaline hits, your life does cross in front of your eyes. I thought of my wife and my kids."
The father of 7-year-old twins, a boy and girl, Levin said he leaped from his first-row seat as Osbon shouted terrifying phrases like: "Israel, Iran, we got him, we got him, yeahhhh!"
Osbon's lips were red, dry and chapped, as if he'd been skiing, Levin said. Both Babakitis and Levin said their arms were sore from holding him down. He broke through some of the plastic restraints supplied by the airline, so the passengers used their belts to hold him down.
"Holding someone down with all your might for 20 minutes is exhausting," Levin said.
Added Babakitis: "My arm hurts; it's kind of bruised actually."
Antolino, chief marketing officer for Eyelock Corp., said the drama unfolded gradually with Osbon traipsing down the aisle to a lavatory in the back of the plane. Osbon then all but sprinted to the front and tried to get into the cockpit after the co-pilot had changed the security code on the door, Antolino said.
Antolino found out that crew members were trying to lure Osbon away from the cockpit. When he realized he'd been tricked, Osbon became angry and fumbled with the security code to the cockpit door.
That was Antolino's signal to do something, he said, adding that he acted on impulse. He reached out into the aisle and clutched the rambling Osbon.
Don Davis, 53, of Massapequa, was sitting in row four on his way to a security conference when, he said, Osbon "nearly took my head off when he came running forward" up the aisle. He said quick thinking by passengers and crew averted a disaster.
"I was saying Hail Marys in my seat," said Davis, who also had Flight 93 passengers on his mind. "It didn't end well for them. If it wasn't for the co-pilot, I don't think it would have ended well for us."
With Kery Murakami, Gregan Wingert and Ellen Yan