Off-Duty Alaska Airlines Pilot Charged with Attempted Sabotage Amid Mental Health Crisis

An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot, Joseph David Emerson, was charged with trying to disable the engines of an Embraer 175, a twin-jet aircraft. Emerson was riding as a standby employee passenger in the cockpit "jump seat" of Sunday's flight from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco when the airborne altercation occurred. After a brief scuffle inside the flight deck with the captain and first officer, Emerson ended up restrained by members of the cabin crew and was arrested in Portland, Oregon. He was charged in Oregon state court with 83 counts of attempted murder and a single count of endangering an aircraft. He pleaded not guilty to those charges at a brief arraignment in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland and was ordered to remain in custody pending a detention hearing to be held within the next five days. Emerson was charged separately in federal court with one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants.


According to affidavits, Emerson told police after his arrest that he was suffering a mental crisis during the incident and had struggled with depression for the past six months. He also told police that he had taken "magic mushrooms" for the first time, ingesting them about 48 hours before boarding the plane. Alaska Air Group, the airline's parent company, said in a statement on Tuesday that at no time during the check-in or boarding process did employees observe any signs of impairment that would have led them to prevent Emerson from flying.


The two pilots who were at the controls of Flight 2059 told investigators that Emerson had started out chatting with them casually, before suddenly hurling his radio headset across the cockpit and saying, "I'm not OK." He then reached up and grabbed two red-colored fire-suppression handles, pulling them downward. A scuffle ensued as one pilot quickly clutched Emerson's wrist to keep him from fully engaging the handles, while the other declared an in-flight emergency before Emerson abruptly quieted down again and left the cockpit.


Emerson joined Alaska Air Group as a Horizon first officer in August 2001 and became a captain at Alaska Airlines in 2019, the carrier said. A Federal Aviation Administration pilot database showed Emerson received a medical clearance last month, and Aviators are expected to self-report any mental health conditions.

ANJ Hotels

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