The aviator tried to shut down the plane’s engines during a flight from Washington State to California, airline officials said
An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder after trying to crash a plane during a mid-flight “mental breakdown,” according to local officials and witnesses.
During a recent flight from Everett, Washington to San Francisco, California, 44-year-old pilot Joseph David Emerson tried to engage the jet’s fire-suppression system, which would have halted the flow of fuel to the craft’s engines and likely caused a catastrophic crash.
“The jump-seat occupant unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines,” an Alaska Airlines spokesperson told the New York Post, referring to Emerson, who was off duty at the time. “The crew secured the aircraft without incident.”
The spokesperson explained that while the fire-suppression mechanism was briefly engaged, some residual fuel typically remains in the line, “and the quick reaction of our crew to reset the handles restored fuel flow and prevented fuel starvation.”
According to passenger Aubrey Gavello, who witnessed the incident, the airline crew had informed other travelers of a medical emergency in the cockpit before diverting the flight to land safely in Portland, Oregon.
“The flight attendant got back on the speaker and said, plain and simple, ‘He had a mental breakdown. We needed to get him off the plane immediately,’” Gavello told ABC News.
Emerson was eventually subdued by crew members and nobody was injured in the scare. He now faces a long list of serious criminal charges, including 83 counts of attempted murder in the first degree, 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person, and one count of endangering an aircraft in the first degree, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office confirmed to the Post.
The pilot is now the subject of a federal investigation, with former FBI intelligence officer Joshua Skule telling CBS News that agents would “unpack this person’s life,” and “go through his social media, all of his computers, his phones.” An unnamed source familiar with the investigation told the Post that Emerson was likely not motivated by ideology, however, suggesting the incident was linked to a mental health episode.