SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — An off-duty pilot who allegedly tried to bring down a commercial flight from Everett, Washington to San Francisco Sunday evening engaged in casual conversation prior to “losing it,” according to court documents. Documents recount the on-duty pilots who were flying Horizon Airlines Flight 2059 said that during the initial stages of the flight, “there was zero indication of anything wrong” with Joseph Emerson.
Emerson, a Pleasant Hill resident and a commercial pilot with Alaska Airlines, is accused of reaching up and grabbing the plane’s red fire handles and pulling them down.
Emerson was removed from service indefinitely on Oct. 22, according to a statement from Alaska Airlines.
While sitting in the cockpit’s jump seat, Emerson reportedly said, “I’m not okay,” before grabbing the handles and pulling them down. Pulling the handles activated the plane’s fire suppression system which shuts off fuel to the engine, according to court documents.
It’s common for off-duty pilots to ride in the jump seat on their way to commute to or from work or to major air travel hubs.
The two pilots in the cockpit with Emerson were able to subdue him and declare an inflight emergency. Emerson initially resisted efforts to subdue him, physically engaging with the other pilot for 25 to 30 seconds before settling down, documents state. He was then asked to leave the cockpit.
One of the pilots estimated that a total of 90 seconds elapsed between Emerson saying he was not OK and leaving the cockpit.
After engaging in polite conversation regarding the weather, documents state Emerson threw his headset across the cockpit before his outburst. Documents also cite the testimony of flight attendants who received a message that Emerson was “losing it” and needed to get out of the cockpit.
After leaving the cockpit, Emerson was seen “peacefully walking to the back of the aircraft.” Documents then state that he told a flight attendant he’d just been “kicked out of the flight deck.” He then said, “you need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad.”
Flight attendants sat him in a seat at the back of the aircraft and places cuffs on his wrists. During the plane’s emergency decent into Portland, Emerson turned toward an emergency exit door and tried to grab the handle.
Flight attendants were able to stop him from opening the door and engaged him in conversation to prevent him from trying to grab the door handle again, documents state. Another flight attendant said Emerson made statements that included, “I messed everything up” and that “he tried to kill everybody.”
A flight attendant saw Emerson take his phone out and begin texting. He was also heard saying he had put 84 peoples’ lives at risk, his own included. Upon arrival, officers observed Emerson secured to a seat with flex handcuffs on his wrists. After being read his Miranda Rights, he was detained and placed in a patrol vehicle.
During an interview with officers, documents state that Emerson believed he was having a “nervous breakdown” and that he’d not slept in 40 hours. Emerson also said he felt dehydrated and tired. During his interview with police, Emerson admitted to trying to pull the emergency shutoff handles.
“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 told officers he pulled the handles because he “thought he was dreaming” and wanted to wake up. He denied taking any medications but said he became depressed six months ago. An officer talked with Emerson about using psychedelic mushrooms and Emerson told the officer it was his first-time taking mushrooms.
At the Port of Portland police department, Emerson said he would waive his right to an attorney. “I’m admitting to what I did,” he said according to documents. “I’m not fighting any charges you want to bring against me, guys.”
A criminal complaint from the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Oregon states Emerson has been charged in federal court with one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants.