A former Alaska Airlines pilot has been indicted on multiple charges after allegedly attempting to sabotage a flight by cutting off the plane’s engine mid-flight. Joseph David Emerson, 44, is facing 84 counts, including one count of endangering aircraft and 83 counts of recklessly endangering the passengers on board Horizon Air Flight 2059. The incident occurred on October 22 when Emerson, who was off-duty, tried to disrupt the engine’s operation using the fire suppression system.
Alaska Airlines explained that the fire suppression system consists of a T-handle for each engine, and if fully deployed, it shuts off fuel to the engine. Fortunately, the flight crew’s quick response prevented any engine power loss. Following the incident, the flight was diverted to Portland, Oregon.
Emerson initially faced 83 counts of attempted murder in addition to the charges of endangering an aircraft and reckless endangerment. However, his lawyers argued that the attempted murder charges were not appropriate as Emerson had no intention of hurting anyone but instead wanted to return home to his family. In a statement, Emerson’s legal team stated that their client believed he was in a dream and took the action to wake up and be with his loved ones.
Federal court records revealed that Emerson had taken psychedelic mushrooms days before the flight and claimed to be experiencing a nervous breakdown due to lack of sleep. He allegedly admitted to pulling the emergency shut-off handles because he believed he was dreaming and wanted to wake up.
Emerson has been removed from service by Alaska Airlines and is currently detained at the Multnomah County Detention Center. A preliminary hearing for the defendant is scheduled for December 7.
This incident highlights the importance of mental health and well-being among airline personnel. It serves as a reminder of the significant responsibility that pilots carry and the potential dangers that can arise if their mental state is compromised. Airlines must continue to prioritize the mental health support and resources available to their employees to ensure the safety and security of all passengers.