Off-duty pilot pleads not guilty to all charges after trying to down plane

An off-duty pilot has pleaded not guilty to 83 counts of attempted murder after he allegedly tried to shut down a plane's engines and bring it down.

Joseph David Emerson, 44, was arrested after the plane landed safely in Portland, Oregon on Sunday, October 22, according to the local prosecutor's office.

Emerson appeared in a brief hearing in an Oregon court on Tuesday, where he pleaded not guilty to all charges against him through his attorney. He is due back in court on Wednesday morning for remand.

He faces a total of 167 state charges – 83 counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft.

On Tuesday the US Attorney's Office for the District of Oregon announced that he had also been indicted on a federal count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants.

Joseph David Emerson, left, 44, is arraigned in Multnomah County Circuit Court Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, in Portland, Oregon


The incident occurred on Sunday during a flight from Seattle to San Francisco. Authorities said Emerson was traveling in the flight deck in the cockpit when he suddenly tried to shut down both of the plane's engines by pulling on the fire extinguisher handles.

He was then subdued by the flight crew as the captain and first officer intervened to keep the engines running. Mr. Emerson was escorted by a flight attendant to the back of the plane, where he was wrist-cuffed and placed in the back seat.

According to Alaska Airlines, Mr Emerson also tried to grab the emergency exit handle during the plane's descent before a flight attendant stopped him.

The flight was diverted to Portland, Oregon, due to Mr Emerson's “credible threat” and he was arrested on arrival. The exact motive for his actions remains unclear, although authorities do not believe the incident was an act of terrorism or ideologically motivated violence. CNN mentionted.

According to a federal affidavit he saw The independent he told police he had a “nervous breakdown” and was taking psychedelic mushrooms.

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.”

Prior to the incident, Mr. Emerson was a pilot with Alaska Airlines. He joined Alaska Air Group as a Horizon First Officer in August 2001, according to the airline.

In June 2012, Mr. Emerson left Horizon to join Virgin America as a pilot, but became first officer of Alaska Airlines after Alaska acquired Virgin America in 2016. He became captain of Alaska Airlines in 2019.

Alaska Airlines said that following the incident, Mr. Emerson had been suspended indefinitely and relieved of all duties with the airline. The company said it is now consulting with its labor partners about his employment status.

In an earlier statement, the airline said Emerson had no history of medical issues and had completed mandatory FAA medical certifications throughout his career.