An off-duty pilot who reclined and tried to “shut down” the engines of Alaska Airlines planes mid-flight — while high on psychedelic mushrooms — now faces a federal indictment on 83 counts of attempted murder.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Oregon announced that Joseph David Emerson, 44, was charged in a criminal complaint with one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants.
According to the affidavit, he told police he experienced a “nervous breakdown” and hadn't slept in 40 hours. Mr Emerson explained to officers: “I wasn't feeling well. It seemed that the pilots were not paying attention to what was happening. They didn't…it didn't seem right.”
The off-duty pilot said, “Yeah… I pulled both emergency shutoff handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just want to wake up.” Although he initially said he did not take any drugs, he later admitted it was his first time taking psychedelic mushrooms.
Mr Emerson, who is originally from Pleasant Hill, California, was flying from Seattle to San Francisco on Sunday before being diverted to Portland because of a “credible security threat” posed by Mr Emerson's attempt to shut down the engines during the flight, the airline said The independent.
The US attorney's office provided more information about the incident, writing that Mr. Emerson “attempted to grab and pull two red fire handles that would have activated the aircraft's emergency fire suppression system and cut off fuel to the engines of. After a brief physical struggle with the pilots, Emerson exited the cockpit.'
The flight attendants then cuffed the 44-year-old and put him in the back of the plane, but that didn't stop him from trying to grab the handle of an emergency exit as the aircraft descended. “A flight attendant stopped him by putting her hands over his,” the statement said.
After a safe landing, Mr. Emerson was subsequently arrested by the Port of Portland Police Department.
“The captain and first officer responded quickly, engine power was not lost and the crew secured the aircraft without incident,” the airline said.
Before the federal charge was unsealed, the off-duty pilot was hit with 167 charges: 83 counts of attempted first-degree murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft.
“We have the guy who tried to shut down the engines outside the cockpit and it doesn't sound like he's causing any problems in the back right now,” the plane's pilot told Seattle-area air traffic controllers in a recording. from LiveATC.net. “I think he's subdued. Other than that, we want law enforcement as soon as we enter the grounds and park.”
The Seattle Times reported that the plane, an Embraer E-175 regional jet, had taken off from Paine Field Airport with 80 people on board.
“Following proper FAA procedures and guidance from air traffic control, the flight diverted safely to Portland International Airport,” the airline added. “The incident is being investigated by law enforcement,” including the FBI. Alaska Airlines also added that “all passengers on the aircraft were able to travel on a later flight.”
He is currently being held in custody in Multnomah County.