The class action lawsuit against Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air was filed Thursday after off-duty pilot Joseph Emerson allegedly tried to shut down the engines mid-flight, forcing the plane to divert to Portland last month.
According to the complaint, Matthew Doland and Theresa Stetler of San Francisco and Paul Stephen of Kenmore, Washington say that the pilot shouldn’t have been allowed in the cockpit because he was suffering from depression and lack of sleep.
The off-duty pilot, Joseph David Emerson, 44, was riding in a jump seat at the time of the incident when he suddenly said he wasn’t feeling well and attempted to engage the fire-suppression system which would’ve cut fuel to the engines. When Emerson was out of the cockpit, flight attendants say he also attempted to open an emergency exit door while in handcuffs.
The Stritmatter Firm says they initiated the suit is to fill an ongoing gap in the airline security system, claiming the airline did not properly screen Emerson. By not doing so, they say Alaska Airlines failed the 83 people on board – ultimately putting their lives at risk.
According to the suit, “Had [Alaska Airlines] done so, he more likely than not would have been denied admission and could not have been in position to nearly kill everyone aboard.”
Attorney Daniel Laurence said that though Emerson was not assigned to fly for that trip, he had responsibilities for aircraft safety as someone in the cockpit’s jump seat.
“People who are trained to fly airplanes also have the unfortunate capacity to crash them purposefully or perhaps if they are experiencing a crisis,” Laurence said.
One passenger, Paul Stephen, said he thought his life would end on Flight 2059.
“Imagine looking out the window for 20 minutes and thinking that you’re gonna die,” Stephen said. “That was the actual feeling on that flight.”
In an email sent Friday, Alaska Airlines says they are reviewing the complaint: “The pilots and flight attendants operating Flight 2059 responded without hesitation to ensure the safety of all onboard. We are incredibly proud and grateful for their skilled actions.”
After the incident, the plane was safely diverted to Portland International Airport where Emerson was taken into custody facing 83 counts of first-degree attempted murder.
Emerson pleaded not guilty to the charges and is still waiting for arraignment later this month on a federal charge of interfering with a flight crew.
According to the complaint, the three passengers have suffered from anxiety, insomnia, fear of flying and other emotional effects due to the incident.
“Alaska Airlines makes it sound like this was a non-event, that they took care of Mr. Emerson, they landed the plane safely, and everyone got to their destination just fine. That is not the story we are hearing from these passengers who are contacting us,” Laurence said. “They were traumatized, very clearly traumatized, and continued to be.”
Stephen told KOIN 6 he has suffered anxiety and insomnia since the incident, and as more details come, the more his questions and concerns grow.
“The pilot closed the door behind him and he walked by himself past me, past children, to other emergency exit doors on the back of the plane. Uncuffed. Nothing,” he said.
Since then, Stephen said he feels that his trust was betrayed by Alaska Airlines.
“There should be no stone unturned for anyone who’s in that cockpit, because there are a number of passengers behind that, that have faith that that system is working,” he said.
Stay with KOIN 6 as this story develops.