Caped Crusader Clay O'’Brien Cooper to the Rescue

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You’ve probably heard by now that there was an incident on a plane on May 2, when Jake (Barnes) and I were headed home on a flight from Helena, Mont. to Salt Lake City after a roping school. After a great school up in Helena, all I was thinking about was making my connection in Salt Lake, so I could get home and sleep in my own bed that night. Then all of a sudden, a situation arose where I was almost in disbelief. I was watching it unfold, but wondering if it was really happening. I was watching all the people get on the flight, like I always do. I was raised in Southern California, where you’re taught to watch your surroundings, evaluate people and pay attention. I just happened to notice one guy who got on, then changed seats before we took off. When he came down the aisle he had a strange look on his face, like he was mad or something was bothering him. I made a mental note that he didn’t look quite right. When we got going and leveled off, the flight attendant came down the aisle serving refreshments.

The guy with the strange look on his face got up and started heading toward the front of the plane, and sure enough, he went all the way. The flight attendant followed him up there, and when he tried to go into the cockpit door, saying he was a space alien and that he wanted to fly the plane, tapped him on the shoulder, asked him what he was doing and told him he needed to sit down. The guy refused a couple of times. I realized something was going down and that things were getting weird. So as soon as that flight attendant looked back to the rest of the cabin for help, I was gone. I was sitting in the third row from the back. I took off and ran up there, and grabbed the guy from behind by his coat sleeves on either side, so he couldn’t turn around and hit me. I had him in a pretty good lock. I pulled him to me, and told him he was going to have to go to the back and sit down. I walked him back down the aisle. Jake was in the very back row, so I put him in the seat right in front of Jake. I stood there a minute, and a doctor got up and asked the guy a question. As soon as we got to the back, the plane headed down to land, because we were close to Idaho Falls and the procedure in a situation like that is to get on the ground as soon as possible.

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We headed down at a pretty steep dive. When I had to sit down, I sat behind him, so I could watch him and he couldn’t get me from behind. The guy was in and out of reality, and acting really strangely. One minute he seemed fine and asked questions, like where we were. He tried to get up a couple times and switch seats, but we told him everything was fine and that he needed to stay put. We landed, they flipped the door open and two air marshals came on and took him out of the plane. They said he got to fighting them when he got outside, but he never did struggle inside. It was a strange, scary deal, but it could have been so much worse. We were happy to have him off that plane, and hoping he hadn’t left any baggage with bombs or anything. The air marshals came back and took statements from us. After all that, I made my connection in Salt Lake and made it home that night.

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I guess the moral of the story is you just never know what’s around the next corner as far as what you might encounter, or what you might have to react to.

Things happen fast, but your survival instincts kick in and you realize there’s a situation that needs your attention. When I saw that guy try to charge the cockpit, those people on those flights on 9-11—when those terrorists were able to get into the cockpit—flashed through my mind. If somebody crazy gets ahold of the controls, you’re in a desperate situation. The bottom line is that guy cannot get into the cockpit. So you just do what you have to do to keep that from happening. When you’re headed up that aisle, your heart’s pumping fast. You don’t know if that guy has a weapon or if he’s going to explode or what. You don’t have time to sit back and think about it, because if you do nothing you can become the victim instead of the victor.

Life is a precious thing. The older we get, when people around us start having health problems or passing on, we really start to understand just how precious it is. That makes you enjoy every day a little more. We need to stop and enjoy the little things in life and not be in such a hurry about things.

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I’m a believer, so I believe that God protects me. I pray when I travel, and my wife prays for my safe travels. I believe God honors those prayers. I’ve traveled lots and lots and lots of miles, and have been in a few situations, like horse wrecks and truck wrecks. God had to be looking out for me. Any of those deals could have been bad, but somehow turned out OK. Everybody has his own beliefs, but I believe that I’m protected; that I have protective angels that protect me. I’ve had some close calls. That guy on that plane didn’t get violent with me, then he got violent with the air marshal who had a gun.

Think of the guy who landed that airplane safely on the Hudson River. He was one of the most renowned glider pilots that there is in the world. He’s flown all kinds of planes, but specializes in gliders. He probably has more experience in that field of gliding than anyone else in the world. So on that day, the very guy in that cockpit who was the most qualified person in the world to do that job when the engines went out was there. That’s not a coincidence to me. Something in my background alerted me to keep an eye on that guy on the plane from Helena to Salt Lake that day, and at that particular time it kicked in. It all happened the way it was supposed to. I just happened to be the guy who needed to stand up—that was my moment. These things happen in the spur of the moment. You don’t even think of it. You just go.

You try to do things right every day. Law-abiding citizens who care about other people and like to live a peaceful, happy, joy-filled life try to do right every day. It’s a pattern and a habit that you create. Our lives are what we create them to be. If you want to have joy and happiness in your life, you have to decide that that’s who you’re going to be and that’s how you’re going to go about every day. Doing things right is a decision and a habit you strive for every day. Sometimes you fail at it, but you ask for forgiveness and try to get it right again the next day.

Jake and I have been doing a lot of schools. Getting to spend a couple days with people who love horses, like to have a good time, have fun, laugh and enjoy life with one another is such a blessing. It’s one of the rewards of life to be able to appreciate, enjoy and experience that. There are so many great people out there who are just good people and get up doing things right and the best they can every day. That’s what makes our rodeo and roping industry great. There are so many down-to-earth people who like to do the right thing.

Editor’s Note: The alleged space alien, 32-year-old Matthew Kleindorfer of Las Vegas, faces a felony charge of battery on an officer, along with misdemeanor counts of disturbing the peace and resisting arrest. I asked Jake about the incident. “You know Clay, he never wants to take credit for anything,” Jake said. “But what he did was pretty heroic, really. I was asleep in the back of the plane, and all of a sudden I looked up and he was headed for the front to take control of the situation. He grabbed that guy, brought him to the back, put him in a seat in front of us and told him not to get up. He took control of the whole deal.” Remember, Clay spent part of his childhood being mentored by John Wayne. Little Hardy Fimps (Clay’s character in “The Cowboys”) grew up to do “The Duke” proud.