Off-duty pilot Joseph Emerson accused of trying to crash Alaska Airlines flight
A pilot off-duty from duty is now facing charges of 83 counts of attempted murder, as he allegedly made an attempt to crash a passenger jet during a Sunday night flight.
According to an official statement from the airline, the suspect was situated in the cockpit of an Alaska Airlines flight, positioned behind the captain and the first officer. The individual in question has been identified in a police booking document as Joseph David Emerson, aged 44.
The flight was originally en route from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco, California, with a total of 80 passengers on board. However, the flight was subsequently diverted to Portland, Oregon, where authorities managed to subdue the suspect without any major incident.
Alaska Airlines, in their official statement, revealed that the off-duty pilot had been traveling in the flight deck jump seat and had made an unsuccessful attempt to disrupt the operation of the aircraft’s engines. The crew members of Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 promptly reported the incident to air traffic control.
In an audio recording of air traffic control communications, one of the pilots was heard saying, “We’ve got the individual who attempted to shut down the engines out of the cockpit, and he doesn’t appear to be causing any problems in the back at the moment.”
“I think he’s subdued,” the pilot added. He requested police presence “as soon as we get on the ground and parked”.
The flight, operated by Horizon Air, was scheduled to take off at 17:25 local time and arrive in San Francisco at 19:30.
However, the flight was diverted to Portland and eventually took off from there to its intended destination at 19:18.
Passenger Aubrey Gavello told ABC News that those on board did not know anything was wrong with the flight until the flight attendant announced that the plane needed to land immediately, later citing a medical emergency.
Ms Gavello told the outlet she heard a flight attendant tell the suspect: “We’re going to be fine, it’s OK, we’ll get you off the plane.”
“So I really thought it was a serious medical emergency,” she said.
Another passenger told the outlet the situation was handled professionally and passengers were not aware of the crisis.
In a statement, Alaska Airlines said all passengers on board were able to travel on a later flight.
“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,” the airline added.
The incident is now being investigated by the Port of Portland Police Department and the FBI, Alaska Airlines said.
In a statement, the FBI confirmed it was investigating and said it “can assure the traveling public there is no continuing threat related to this incident”.
In addition to the attempted murder charges, Mr Emerson also faces 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft. He was lodged at Multnomah County Detention Center while the investigation continues.
Officials said they were unsure when he would be arraigned.
On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration sent guidance to US air carriers that the incident was “not connected in any way shape or form to current world events”.