PLEASANT HILL, Calif. (KRON) — A pilot who lives in Pleasant Hill, Joseph David Emerson, is facing 167 charges after he allegedly tried to shut down the engines of a plane bound for San Francisco while he was off-duty and in the cockpit.

Emerson, 44, is an FAA licensed pilot. He is now accused of attempting to murder 83 people who were onboard the passenger flight Sunday evening, according to jail booking records.

Neighbors described Emerson as a “positive, very friendly, upbeat,” father of two.

On a quiet street in Pleasant Hill, Emerson, his wife, and two young sons live in a one-story house decorated with Halloween ghost, tombstone, and skeleton displays on the front lawn..

Pilot Joseph David Emerson’s house is decorated with Halloween ghosts and skeletons on Oct. 23, 2023. (KRON4 image)

One neighbor, Karen Yee, told KRON4 that the pilot’s children sometimes go over to her house to play. “We still can’t believe it. We are still shocked. It doesn’t sound like Joe at all. I don’t know what happened to him mentally that he would do something like that,” Yee said Monday

Emerson had recently received new training that he was excited about, Yee added.

Emerson’s family has been advised by attorneys not to speak to the media. Family members and friends went to the house Monday night to gather some items for the family.

On Sunday, Emerson was on Horizon Air Flight 2059 and sitting in the cockpit’s jump seat when he “unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines,” Alaska Airlines officials wrote.

Joseph Emerson
Joseph Emerson

Alaska Airlines said the Horizon Air passenger jet was headed from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco International Airport. Midflight, “an off-duty employee from another airline caused an inflight disturbance while in the cockpit,” a Port of Portland spokesperson told KRON4.

The plane’s captain, co-pilot, and crew reacted quickly to maintain engine power and subdue Emerson, according to airlines officials and audio from the pilots.

One of the pilots said on audio captured by, “We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit. I think he’s subdued. We want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground.”

The pilots made an emergency landing at Portland International Airport. Emerson was met by Port of Portland police officers who took him into custody.

Alaska Airlines officials wrote, “The crew secured the aircraft. We are grateful for the professional handling of the situation by the Horizon flight crew and appreciate our guests’ calm and patience throughout this event.”

Horizon Air is a regional carrier owned by Alaska Airlines.

Emerson is currently in custody at the Multnomah County Detention Center in Portland with no bail, jail inmate records show. He was booked into jail on 83 counts of first-degree attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment, and one count of endangering an aircraft.

Charges were referred to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office for review. He is slated to be arraigned in court at 2:05 p.m. Tuesday.

(File / AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The Port of Portland Police Department, FBI, TSA, FAA, and Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office are investigating the incident.