Updated Oct 24, 2023 - Economy

Pilot arrested for trying to cut engines on Alaska Airlines flight

Path of Horizon flight 2059 on Oct. 22, 2023
Data: FlightAware; Map: Jacque Schrag/Axios (Note: Horizon Air is a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines.)

An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot was charged with 83 counts of attempted murder for allegedly trying to shut down a plane's engines midflight on Sunday.

The big picture: Joseph David Emerson, 44, was riding in the jump seat of Alaska Airlines flight 2059 from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco and was subdued after attempting the shutdown, the company said.

  • In addition to the felony attempted murder counts, Emerson also received 83 counts of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, and one felony count of endangering an aircraft.
  • An Alaska spokesperson said there were 80 passengers and 4 crew members aboard the flight.

The latest: Emerson told officers that he thought he was having a "nervous breakdown" and had not slept in 40 hours, according to the affidavit.

  • He also told a law enforcement officer that he took psychedelic mushrooms for the first time, according to court documents. It is unclear when he took them or how he obtained them.
  • Emerson told the officer that he became depressed about six months ago and that he didn't take any medication.

Zoom in: A pilot told air traffic control that a man was subdued after trying to cut the plane's engines and requested law enforcement when the plane landed at Portland, according to audio uploaded on LiveATC.net, which shares recordings of air-traffic-control radio transmissions.

  • "I'll just give you a heads-up. We've got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit," the pilot said. "It doesn't seem like he's causing any issue at the back. I think he's subdued."
  • After arrival, Emerson was arrested by the Port of Portland Police Department and was booked at 4:11am PT on Monday.

Between the lines: A jump seat, where Emerson was sitting, is an extra seat in a cockpit that's often used to transport off-duty pilots and airline staff who aren't flying the plane.

What they're saying: Alaska Airlines said in a statement on Monday that the flight, which was operated by its subsidiary Horizon Air, diverted to Portland International Airport after the incident.

  • "The Horizon Captain and First Officer quickly responded, engine power was not lost and the crew secured the aircraft without incident," the company said, adding that all passengers on board were able to travel on a later flight.
  • The FBI's office in Portland said it's investigating the incident, while the Federal Aviation Administration said that it's assisting with investigations.

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Axios' April Rubin contributed reporting to this story.

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