Captain Joseph D. Emerson was off-duty and was riding in the cockpit jump seat of Alaska Airlines flight 2059 on Sunday, from Seattle to San Francisco operating through Horizon Air, when he suddenly tried to shut the engines down mid-flight. Thankfully, according to the Wall Street Journal, the on-duty captain and first officer quickly subdued Emerson. New developments suggest the incident may have been linked to drug use, while the FBI has determined it was unrelated to terrorism.
Emerson, 44, attempted to shut the engines down by engaging the emergency engine fire suppression system, which stops fuel to the engines. There are T-shaped handles for each engine that need to be pulled for the system to work. When Emerson tried to pull them, the captain and first officer quickly reset the handles after subduing the off-duty pilot.
"After they are pulled, some residual fuel remains in the line, and the quick reaction of our crew to reset the handles restored fuel flow and prevented fuel starvation," said an Alaska Airlines spokesperson, according to the New York Times.
Per WSJ, Horizon's pilots told air-traffic control that the situation was a level four, which indicates an attempted, or successful, breach of the cockpit. However, they also said that Emerson was subdued and put in the back of the plane.
"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," pilots said in an audio recording, per WSJ. The pilots reportedly said that Emerson calmed down "after one moment of going a little bit overboard."
After the pilots subdued Emerson, the flight diverted and landed in Portland, Oregon, where Emerson was immediately arrested. He's booked at Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office with 83 counts of attempted murder, reckless endangerment, and the endangerment of an aircraft.
It seems this incident is isolated, and that Emerson may have experienced some sort of mental break. He became a pilot in 2001 and never had his certifications revoked, nor were there any suspensions of his pilot's license.
On Tuesday, an FBI agent revealed that Emerson's actions may have been influenced by psychedelic mushrooms. According to the Los Angeles Times citing federal investigators, Emerson told authorities he had taken psychedelic mushrooms for the first time. Now, the FBI is seeking to determine whether he ingested the drug prior to the flight. The same criminal complaint claims Emerson said "I am not OK," while talking to the pilots. He was also heard saying that he put passengers' lives at risk and told flight attendants "You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad."
After the plane landed, Emerson reportedly admitted everything to the police and said he wouldn't fight any charges. The FBI and local law enforcement are currently investigating the incident further, with the cooperation of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air.
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