An Alaska Airlines pilot has appeared in court on 83 counts of attempted murder after allegedly trying to shut down a plane’s engine ‘while high on magic mushrooms’.
Joseph Emerson, 44, was off-duty and sitting in the jump seat in the cockpit of a Horizon Air plane from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco on Sunday when he allegedly tried to shut off the engines’ fuel supply.
Emerson, who is being held without bail at Multnomah County Jail, was arraigned this afternoon in an Oregon court following the incident over the weekend.
During the short hearing, Emerson appeared before the court in a blue prison jumpsuit with a pink t-shirt underneath.
Emerson did not address the court directly but did speak to his attorney from behind a partition. He pleaded not guilty to all 83 counts of attempted murder through his lawyer.
Off-duty pilot Joseph Emerson was arraigned in court earlier today and faces 83 counts of attempted murder
During the short hearing, Emerson appeared before the court in a blue prison jumpsuit with a pink t-shirt underneath
Emerson joined Alaska Air Group as a Horizon first officer in August 2001 and in 2012, left Horizon to join Virgin America as a pilo
Earlier today, he was also charged in federal court for interfering with flight crew and also faces state charges of 83 counts of attempted murder and reckless endangerment.
According to a federal affidavit, Emerson said ‘I’m not okay’ before reaching up to grab two red fire handles which would have cut the plane’s engines, and he later told federal officials: ‘Yah …I pulled both emergency shut off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up.’
The affidavit also states Emerson reported becoming depressed around six months ago, and said it was his first time taking psychedelic mushrooms.
The plane made an emergency landing in Oregon where Emerson was arrested.
In a statement from the District of Oregon Department of Justice, they said: ‘Emerson attempted to grab and pull two red fire handles that would have activated the plane’s emergency fire suppression system and cut off fuel to its engines.
‘After a brief physical struggle with the pilots, Emerson exited the cockpit,’ said a statement from the District of Oregon Department of Justice.
Emerson had been casually speaking to the plane’s two pilots about the weather and the fact he’d been an employee there for ten years when he suddenly threw his headset across the cockpit and announced ‘I am not okay’, court documents state.
After reaching for the two red levers, one of the pilots ‘wrestled’ him off before declaring an in-flight emergency and telling flight attendants Emerson was ‘losing it’. They then turned off autopilot and changed course for Portland, the affidavit states.
Emerson attempted to turn off the engines by engaging the engine fire suppression system. The fire suppression system – otherwise known as the engine fire handle – consists of a T-shaped handle for each engine
Within seconds of the incident, the captain and his first officer had restrained their colleague and removed him from the cockpit – saving the plane and all 84 passengers on board
Once Emerson was locked out of the cockpit, he was seen ‘peacefully walking to the back of the aircraft’ and told one flight attendant he ‘just got kicked out of the flight deck’.
According to the court documents, he then warned: ‘You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad.’
Flight attendants had to place Emerson in wrist restraints and seat him in the rear of the aircraft. Emerson then tried to grab the handle of an emergency exit and a flight attendant stopped him by placing her hands on top of his, according to the DOJ.
One of the attendants also claimed he made statements including ‘I messed everything up’, and ‘he tried to kill everybody’.
In a recorded interview with cops, Emerson said he believed he was having a ‘nervous breakdown’ and had not slept in 40 hours, the affidavit states.
‘I didn’t feel okay. It seemed like the pilots weren’t paying attention to what was going on. They didn’t… it didn’t seem right,’ he told police.
Emerson denied taking any medication but spoke with cops about using psychedelic mushrooms – telling them it was his first time taking the drug.
According to the affidavit, Emerson asked if he could waive his right to an attorney at the Port of Portland police department, and said: ‘I’m admitting to what I did. I’m not fighting any charges you want to bring against me, guys.’
Emerson had been sitting in the third ‘jump’ seat of the cockpit when the chaos started – a seat commonly used by off-duty pilots who need to fly a later flight so they don’t need to take up a passenger seat.
The captain told ground control: ‘We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit. He doesn’t sound like he’s causing any issue in the back right now, and I think he’s subdued. Other than that, yeah, we want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked.’
There were 80 passengers including children along with four crewmembers on board the plane.
Neighbors describe Emerson as a happy, playful dad, a friendly man with no issues they knew about. He would play basketball with his kids on a court he built for them in the back yard, and invited neighbors over for parties
Neighbors also had positive things to say about wife, describing her as a doting mother and a swimming coach, who taught physical education at a local community college
Emerson’s family home in a close-knit residential block in Pleasant Hill, California, in the rolling hills east of San Francisco
A Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson said that Emerson attempted to turn off the engines by engaging the engine fire suppression system.
The fire suppression system – otherwise known as the engine fire handle – consists of a T-shaped handle for each engine.
‘If the T-handle is fully deployed, a valve in the wing closes to shut off fuel to the engine. In this case, the quick reaction of our crew to reset the T-handles ensured engine power was not lost,’ Alaska Airlines said.
Retired airline pilot John Cox told The Washington Post that enabling the fire system is easy to do. ‘You want them to be accessible in case of an engine fire,’ he said.
Aubrey Gavello, who was on board the plane, said a flight attendant told passengers that Emerson suffered a mental breakdown.
‘After we did land and the gentleman was escorted off, the flight attendant got back on the speaker and said, plain and simple, ‘He had a mental breakdown. We needed to get him off the plane immediately’,’ she told ABC.
One passenger described Emerson’s behavior as ‘bizarre.’ Bailey Beck told SFGATE that after being removed from the cockpit, the pilot walked to the back of the plane without having to be restrained where he was handcuffed to a rail.
Emerson’s neighbors told DailyMail.com that he lives with his wife, Sarah Stretch, and two young sons in a close-knit residential block in Pleasant Hill, California, in the rolling hills east of San Francisco.
Emerson joined Alaska Air Group as a Horizon first officer in August 2001 and in 2012, left Horizon to join Virgin America as a pilot, Alaska said.
He became an Alaska Airlines first officer after Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin America in 2016 and became an Alaska Airlines captain in 2019. Alaska said ‘at no point were his certifications denied, suspended or revoked.’
Neighbors describe Emerson as a happy, playful dad, a friendly man with no issues they knew about. He would play basketball with his kids on a court he built for them in the back yard, and invited neighbors over for parties.
They also had positive things to say about wife, describing her as a doting mother and a swimming coach, who taught physical education at a local community college.
‘It is just really shocking, disturbing news,’ said next-door neighbor Karen Yee. ‘They are excellent neighbors. He is a fantastic father. He plays with the kids all the time. He’s very friendly. He’s just a great guy.
‘He’s very understanding of other people,’ she said. ‘We have a son with special needs, and he’s very good to him. We just couldn’t imagine him doing anything to hurt someone.’
‘It is just really shocking, disturbing news,’ said next-door neighbor Karen Yee. ‘They are excellent neighbors. He is a fantastic father. He plays with the kids all the time. He’s very friendly. He’s just a great guy,’ a neighbor said
Live Air Traffic audio appears to show a pilot describing the person believed to be Emerson ‘subdued’ after the incident, suggesting there was a struggle
Joseph Emerson was charged with 83 counts of attempted murder for each person on board the Embraer 175 plane
Alaska Airlines released a statement at 6pm on October 23 saying: ‘On Oct. 22, Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 operated by Horizon Air from Everett, WA (PAE) to San Francisco, CA (SFO) reported a credible security threat related to an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot, identified as Captain Joseph Emerson, who was traveling in the flight deck jump seat.
‘Captain Emerson unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines. The Horizon Captain and First Officer quickly responded, and the crew secured the aircraft without incident.
‘Engine power was not lost despite the off-duty pilot’s attempt to shut down the engines by engaging the Engine Fire Handle, also known as the fire suppression system.
‘All passengers on board were able to complete their journey with a new crew and aircraft. We are grateful for the patience of our guests throughout this event and are reaching out to each of them individually to discuss their experience and check-in on their well-being.
‘Captain Emerson joined Alaska Air Group as a Horizon First Officer in August 2001. In June 2012, Emerson left Horizon to join Virgin America as a pilot.
‘Emerson became an Alaska Airlines First Officer following Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin America in 2016. He became an Alaska Airlines Captain in 2019.
‘Throughout his career, Emerson completed his mandated FAA medical certifications in accordance with regulatory requirements, and at no point were his certifications denied, suspended or revoked.’