I first heard about the Alaska Airlines pilot who tried to shut off a plane’s engine mid-flight while he was jump seating, shortly after it happened on X (Twitter) and Threads. I didn’t write about it at the time because the details were still coming in and the story just didn’t make sense. RELATED: 12 Things in Travel You Need to Know Today
At first, some reports said that he was an off-duty police officer and others said he was an off-duty pilot. Turns out the latter was true. According to The New York Times, “An off-duty pilot who was in a jump seat in the cockpit of an Alaska Airlines flight on Sunday was charged with more than 80 counts of attempted murder after he tried to cut fuel to the engines, prompting the plane to divert to Portland, Ore., the authorities said.”
The man was identified as Joseph D. Emerson after he taken into custody without incident. What didn’t make sense to me is that he was on his way to work. He was supposed to pilot an Alaska Airlines flight from San Francisco so why would he not just wait and nosedive (shivers) when he was at the controls like other sick individuals?
It turns out, he was on shrooms. According to a police report in a separate New York Times piece just released, “In an interview with the police after he was taken into custody, the pilot, Joseph D. Emerson, 44, said he had not slept in 40 hours and had been depressed for about six months, according to a federal criminal complaint. The officer and Mr. Emerson “talked about the use of psychedelic mushrooms, and Emerson said it was his first time taking mushrooms,” the criminal complaint states.”
Now that makes sense. But what’s scary is this person seemed to be a great guy according to his neighbors and showed no signs of being unstable. It’s not clear if this incident will take away the privilege of allowing off-duty pilots to sit in the jump seat when the passenger cabin is full but I would imagine it’s being discussed.
One thing is for sure, is the cockpit and cabin crew need to be commended for avoiding a catastrophe and for remaining calm, cool and collected. Here’s the audio between the captain and the tower.
The communication between cockpit and Tower after the threat (flight Jump seat occupant) was moved to the aft cabin area of the Horizon Air Embraer E175LR aircraft (N660QX), while descending from FL310, for a diversion.
— FL360aero (@fl360aero) October 24, 2023
Here is the official statement from Alaska Airlines:
“On Oct. 22, Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 operated by Horizon Air from Everett, WA (PAE) to San Francisco, CA (SFO) reported a credible security threat related to an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot, identified as Captain Joseph Emerson, who was traveling in the flight deck jump seat. Captain Emerson unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines. The Horizon Captain and First Officer quickly responded, and the crew secured the aircraft without incident.
Engine power was not lost despite the off-duty pilot’s attempt to shut down the engines by engaging the Engine Fire Handle, also known as the fire suppression system. The fire suppression system consists of a T-handle for each engine. If the T-handle is fully deployed, a valve in the wing closes to shut off fuel to the engine. In this case, the quick reaction of our crew to reset the T-handles ensured engine power was not lost. Our crew responded without hesitation to a difficult and highly unusual situation, and we are incredibly proud and grateful for their skillful actions.
Following appropriate FAA procedures and guidance from Air Traffic Control, the flight was safely diverted to Portland International Airport (PDX). Captain Emerson is currently in custody and the event is being investigated by law enforcement authorities, which includes the FBI and the Port of Portland Police Department.
All passengers on board were able to complete their journey with a new crew and aircraft. We are grateful for the patience of our guests throughout this event and are reaching out to each of them individually to discuss their experience and check-in on their well-being.
Captain Emerson joined Alaska Air Group as a Horizon First Officer in August 2001. In June 2012, Emerson left Horizon to join Virgin America as a pilot. Emerson became an Alaska Airlines First Officer following Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin America in 2016. He became an Alaska Airlines Captain in 2019. Throughout his career, Emerson completed his mandated FAA medical certifications in accordance with regulatory requirements, and at no point were his certifications denied, suspended or revoked.”
Here’s the criminal complaint against the pilot:
The criminal complaint against Joseph Emerson has now been posted. It details the sequence of events during his Sunday attempt from the jumpseat to pull the fire handles on the Horizon Air flight. He had been awake for 40 hours and the complaint suggests he had taken shrooms. pic.twitter.com/s5d6yzMoQk
— Jon Ostrower (@jonostrower) October 24, 2023
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