Off-Duty Pilot Gets 83 Counts of Attempted Murder After Allegedly Trying to Down Plane: What We Know

The off-duty pilot facing dozens of counts of attempted murder after allegedly trying to take a plane from a sister airline down, plead not guilty on October 24.

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Alaska Airlines flight
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Joseph Emerson, 44, an off-duty pilot allegedly employed by Alaska Airlines, may be spending a long time behind bars. According to a Monday, October 23, report by TMZ, he’s been arrested in Multnomah County, Oregon, after police officials alleged he tried to shut down an aircraft’s engines mid-flight, putting the lives of 83 passengers in danger.

Read on to find out what we know so far about the bizarre incident.

What we know about the flight

According to ABC News, the flight in question was from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco, California on Sunday, October 23, before it was diverted mid-flight to Portland, Oregon. A “credible security threat related to an authorized occupant in the flight deck jump seat,” was to blame, the airline reportedly confirmed to the news outlet.

TMZ claims that the flight was actually helmed by a sister airline — Horizon Airlines, which is reportedly owned by the company that manages Alaska Airlines.

What happened on the flight?

Alaska Airlines plane
Reginald Mathalone/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

According to ABC, suspect Emerson allegedly attempted to pull the fire extinguisher handles on the engines, per a preliminary investigation. Flight crew, including the captain and first officer, reportedly subdued and overwhelmed Emerson in order to prevent the plane from crashing.

According to TMZ, audio was also captured of the incident. “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,” someone reportedly says in the clip. “We want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked.” The outlet also reported that according to police, Emerson was seated in the cockpit’s jump seat when he attempted the alleged act.

ABC News reports that a federal official told them Emerson was handcuffed to a seat until the plane landed.

Come October 24, TMZ obtained audio from the aircraft. The flight’s pilot described Emerson as “going overboard,” before later revealing that he was removed from the cockpit and subdued. And according to a criminal complaint obtained by the outlet the same day, he told investigators he didn’t feel “okay.” “I didn’t feel okay,” he reportedly said. “It seemed like the pilots weren’t paying attention to what was going on. They didn’t … it didn’t seem right.”

He also allegedly admitted to suffering what he termed a “nervous breakdown” brought on by dehydration, lack of sleep, and alleged use of mushrooms.

What happens to the suspect now?

According to ABC News, the Port of Portland confirmed on Monday that Joseph David Emerson was taken into custody over the alleged incident. Per the news outlet, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office says he is charged with 83 counts of attempted murder, as well as 83 counts of reckless endangerment and finally, a felony count of endangering an aircraft.

Daily Mail reported on Tuesday, October 24, that David appeared in court and plead not guilty, but did not address the court directly.