Portland, Oregon – An off-duty pilot has been indicted on 84 charges after allegedly attempting to shut down the engines of an Alaska Airlines plane mid-flight. Joseph David Emerson, 44, is facing one count of endangering aircraft in the first degree and 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person. The incident took place on October 22, prompting the flight to divert from Everett, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. Emerson was initially charged with 83 counts of attempted murder, but the grand jury chose not to pursue this charge. He is currently in custody and is set to be arraigned on Thursday.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office announced the charges on Tuesday. Emerson’s legal team claims that their client experienced a panic attack during the flight and was in a dream-like state at the time of the incident. They also revealed that Emerson had consumed a small amount of psilocybin, a substance found in mushrooms, two days before the flight. According to his attorneys, Emerson’s actions were driven by a desire to return home to his family rather than any intent to harm others.
Emerson entered the cockpit and engaged in casual conversation with the pilots before allegedly attempting to pull two red fire handles. This action would have activated the plane’s emergency fire suppression system and cut off fuel to the engines. However, the pilots were able to prevent Emerson from fully activating the engine shutoff by wrestling with him. Flight attendants then restrained him and placed him in the back of the plane.
The defense team expressed disappointment with the grand jury’s decision to indict Emerson on all 84 charges. They are preparing to present a comprehensive defense during the upcoming trial. Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines confirmed that Emerson was occupying the flight deck jump seat, located in the cockpit, at the time of the incident. The airline diverted the flight from its original destination in San Francisco to Portland.
Emerson’s arraignment is scheduled for later this week, and his lawyers are working on a release plan in the hopes that he will be able to return home soon. The charges he currently faces include endangering aircraft and recklessly endangering others. The entire incident lasted approximately 90 seconds, during which flight attendants were able to restrain Emerson and prevent further harm.