Alaska Airlines pilot Joseph David Emerson has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder after he allegedly tried to shut down a plane’s engines midflight Sunday, causing the aircraft to divert to Portland, Oregon.
Oregon state prosecutors filed 83 counts of attempted murder against Emerson, 44, for his interference with a flight crew that could have led to a plane crash. Per the Associated Press:
Emerson, an Alaska Airlines pilot from Pleasant Hill, California, was arrested Sunday night after the flight crew reported that he attempted to shut down the engines on a Horizon Air flight from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco while riding in the extra seat in the cockpit. The plane was diverted to Portland, where it landed safely with more than 80 people on board.
The FBI affidavit said Emerson, who as an off-duty pilot was authorized to ride in the cockpit’s jump seat, made casual conversation with the captain and first officer when the plane was between Astoria, Oregon, and Portland, before trying to grab two red handles that would have activated the plane’s fire suppression system and cut off fuel to its engines.
Alaska Airlines owns Horizon Air and said Emerson has been relieved of all his duties.
Pilots who were in the cockpit at the time of Emerson’s alleged meltdown reported him saying “I’m not OK” before he tried flipping the switches. Emerson has claimed that he had been suffering from depression, had little sleep for over 40 hours, and had even been high on “magic mushrooms.”
Police say the off duty pilot did not appear intoxicated at the time of his arrest.
After a brief struggle that lasted 30 seconds, Emerson left the cockpit and was replaced in wrist restraints by flight attendants at the back of the plane. Emerson allegedly tried to open the emergency exit as the plane descended.
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