PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who is accused of attempting to shut off a plane’s engines mid-flight has been federally charged in the District of Oregon, and court documents are revealing new details about the incident.
On Monday, officials announced that 44-year-old Joseph David Emerson was facing 167 charges related to the incident, including 83 counts of aggravated attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty to the charges on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon told the public that the pilot was additionally facing a federal charge for interference with flight crew members and attendants.
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office told KOIN 6 that Emerson had self-reported suicidal ideations on Monday morning and has been on suicide watch ever since.
According to the criminal complaint filed by an FBI agent, Emerson was off duty during the incident that happened on Sunday evening.
The pilot who flew the aircraft told authorities “there was zero indication of anything wrong” at the beginning of the flight until Emerson said “I’m not okay” halfway between Astoria and Portland.
Then, the suspect is believed to have pulled down the aircraft’s red fire handles, which activate the fire suppression system that shuts off the fuel supply.
The court documents allege that one on-duty pilot grabbed Emerson’s wrist to stop him, as a second pilot declared an in-flight emergency. Authorities estimate that the defendant resisted for about 90 seconds before leaving the cockpit.
According to the filings, Emerson told flight attendants that he had just been kicked out of the flight deck as he walked to the back of the plane. Officials also accused the defendant of telling the flight crew, “You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad.”
The plane, an Alaska Airlines flight operated by Horizon Air headed from Everett, Washington to San Francisco, was then diverted to the Portland International Airport. During the plane’s descent, flight attendants accused Emerson of attempting to open an emergency exit door while in handcuffs.
One flight attendant told officials they stopped Emerson by placing their hands on his, and by speaking with him to distract him from another attempt.
“Another flight attendant observed Emerson make statements such as, ‘I messed everything up” and that ‘he tried to kill everybody,’” Special Agent Simmons Jr. wrote. “The flight attendant noticed Emerson take out his cellular phone and appeared to be texting on the phone. Emerson was heard saying he had just put 84 peoples’ lives at risk tonight including his own.”
After landing at PDX, the documents reveal that Emerson told police officers he believed he was having a nervous breakdown and he hadn’t slept for 40 hours. According to officials, the pilot also said he became depressed six months ago and had used psychedelic mushrooms for the first time 48 hours prior to the incident on the plane.