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Off-duty pilot says nervous breakdown prompted security incident

Joseph Emerson is facing numerous charges, state and federal, including 83 counts of attempted murder.
Posted at 4:48 PM, Oct 24, 2023

An off-duty Alaska Airlines believes a nervous breakdown caused him to pull red fire handles in the cockpit, which could have shut off the plane's engines, according to an affidavit filed with the District Court of Oregon. 

Joseph Emerson is facing numerous charges, state and federal, including 83 counts of attempted murder, which he pleaded not guilty to, according to The Associated Press.

Emerson was sitting in the cockpit jumpseat during Sunday's Horizon flight from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco, on Sunday. Horizon Air is a regional airline in the Alaska Air group.

According to the affidavit, one of the pilots told a police officer that he had engaged in casual conversation with Emerson at the beginning of the flight, but then suddenly noticed the 41-year-old throw his headset across the cockpit and say, "I am not okay."

It was at that point the pilots said Emerson reached for the "red engine shut-off handles," which would have shut off the fuel supply to the engines. 

One of the pilots reportedly grabbed Emerson's wrist while the other declared an in-flight emergency. 

After initially resisting, one of the pilot's told police that Emerson "settled down" and exited the cockpit. 

Off-duty pilot tried to disrupt plane's engines, Alaska Airlines says
An Alaska Airlines passenger plane.

Off-duty pilot tried to disrupt plane's engines, Alaska Airlines says

Joseph Emerson is charged with 83 counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft.

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He reportedly began walking toward the back of the plane and told one of the flight attendants that he “just got kicked out of the flight deck” and he needed to be handcuffed or "it’s going to be bad.” 

The affidavit says that one of the crew members sat Emerson in a seat for flight attendants and placed handcuffs around his wrists. The flight attendant said that didn't deter Emerson from trying to open the emergency exit door. 

A flight attendant told police that they engaged Emerson in conversation to try to distract him. At one point, Emerson reportedly said "I messed everything up."

When the plane safely landed in Portland, Emerson was arrested. 

He was interviewed by police, stating he didn't feel OK, adding he thought he was dreaming when he attempted to shut off the plane's engines. 

Emerson also told the officer that he became depressed about six months ago and took psychedelic mushrooms for the very first time. 

“I’m admitting to what I did. I’m not fighting any charges you want to bring against me, guys," Emerson said, according to the affidavit. 

Emerson is currently in custody at the Multnomah County jail.