Details have emerged in a court affidavit about the chaotic events that led to Alaska Airlines pilot Joseph Emerson allegedly almost downing a plane over the United States (US).
On October 24, 2023, Federal prosecutors from the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon charged Emerson from Pleasant Hill, California, with interfering with flight crew members, a charge that can lead to a 20-year prison sentence.
An affidavit was also put forward by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to support the criminal case which is based on interviews carried out by police officers with Emerson and crew members following the incident.
The affidavit explained that while Emerson was sitting in the Alaska Airlines flight deck jump seat he engaged in polite conversation with the pilots about types of aircraft.
However, about halfway between Astoria and Portland, Oregan, Emerson threw his head set across the cockpit and said, “I’m not okay”.
At this point he then reached for the red fire handles, which if activated would have shut off the fuel supply to the engines.
One of the pilots managed to grab Emerson’s wrists as he pulled the handles down, and they began wrestling with each other for around 30 seconds.
The other pilot declared an in-flight emergency, turned the autopilot off and rerouted the aircraft to Portland.
Following the fight, Emerson was told to leave the cockpit, which he did, and the pilots then secured the cockpit door.
According to one of the cabin crew members Emerson said he just got “kicked out of the flight deck” and said, “you need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad”.
Emerson was placed at the back of the plane but, according to the affidavit, he later made an attempt to grab the handle on an emergency door but was prevented from doing so by a flight attendant.
A flight attendant also said that they heard Emerson say, “I messed everything up” and that “he tried to kill everybody”.
Once the plane landed, Emerson was interviewed by police officers where he said he believed he was “having a nervous breakdown” and had not slept in 40 hours.
“I didn’t feel okay. It seemed like the pilots weren’t paying attention to what was going on. They didn’t… it didn’t seem right,” Emerson told the officers.
The affidavit also reported that Emerson said: “I pulled both emergency shut off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up.”
Emerson also talked to the police officers about the use of psychedelic mushrooms and said it was his first time taking them.
The Associated Press reported that Emerson had taken psychedelic mushrooms around 48 hours before the flight. Psilocybin, which is found in psychedelic mushrooms, is legal to use in Oregan for mental health conditions.
Once Emerson was brought to Port of Portland police department, he said: “I’m admitting to what I did.”
On October 24, 2023, Emerson also appeared at a brief hearing at a court in Oregon where he faces 167 non-federal charges including 83 counts of attempted murder.
Emerson pleaded not guilty and will return to court on October 25, 2023, for a preventative detention hearing.
On October 23, 2023, Alaska Airlines released a new statement that said at no point did its gate agents or cabin crew “observe any signs of impairment that would have led them to prevent Emerson from flying on Flight 2059”.
The carrier also confirmed that Emerson was removed from service indefinitely and relieved from all duties at Alaska Airlines.
Emerson was aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 on October 22, 2022, travelling from Seattle Paine Field International Airport (PAE) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
As a serving Captain with Alaska Airlines Emerson was granted permission by the pilot in command (PIC) of the Embraer E175 passenger jet to ride in the jump seat.
Following the incident, the flight operated by Horizon Air, was then diverted to Portland International Airport (PDX) where an emergency landing was carried out.