An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot faces 167 charges after he allegedly tried to shut down an aircraft’s engine while he was travelling in the flight deck jump seat.
Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the 44-year-old Joseph David Emerson, from Pleasant Hill, California, is being held on 83 counts of attempted murder, 83 for reckless endangerment and one charge of endangering an aircraft.
Alaska Airlines confirmed on October 23, 2023, that 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.
According to Alaska Airlines, a “credible security threat” arose when midflight Emerson “unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines”.
Emerson allegedly attempted 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,” Alaska Airlines said.
Alaska Airlines praised its Captain and First Officer who subdued Emerson during a “difficult and highly unusual situation”.
A recording of one of the on-duty pilots speaking to air traffic control was captured following the incident.
“Okay, let’s give you a heads up. We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit, and he doesn’t sound like he’s causing any issue in the back right now. I think he’s subdued. We want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked,” the pilot is heard saying.
The flight, operated by Horizon Air, was then diverted to Portland International Airport (PDX) where an emergency landing was carried out.
“Following appropriate FAA procedures and guidance from Air Traffic Control, the flight was safely diverted to Portland International Airport. 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,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed that it was “engaged with Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air” and is “supporting law enforcement investigations”.
In a statement, the FBI said it was investigating the incident and reassured the traveling public that there is no “continuing threat related to this incident”.
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,” Alaska Airlines added in its statement.