Off-duty pilot who ‘tried to shut down plane engines’ mid-flight charged with 83 counts of attempted murder

23 October 2023, 23:41 | Updated: 23 October 2023, 23:54

Joe Emerson was charged with 83 counts of attempted murder after the incident.
Joe Emerson was charged with 83 counts of attempted murder after the incident. Picture: Facebook/LinkedIn

By Jenny Medlicott

An off-duty pilot has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder after he was accused of trying to crash a plane during a flight to San Francisco.

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Joseph David Emerson, 44, was charged with 83 counts of attempted murder following the incident.

Emerson was not flying the aircraft when the incident occurred, but was sitting in the cockpit of the Alaska Airlines flight behind the captain and first-officer.

Alaska Airlines said in a statement that he was travelling in the flight deck jump seat, when he “unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines”.

Crew members managed to “subdue” the off-duty pilot during the incident and the aircraft quickly had to be diverted to Portland, Oregon.

The plane was supposed to fly from Everett, Washington to San Francisco, California.

A recording from air traffic control communication hears one of the pilots saying: “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."

“I think he’s subdued,” the audio added. The pilot went on to request police backup for when the plane landed in Portland.

Joseph Emerson was charged after the incident.
Joseph Emerson was charged after the incident. Picture: Facebook

Neighbours of Emerson expressed their surprise over the incident, as Karen Yee told the DailyMail: “We have a son with special needs, and he's very good to him.

“It's very hard for us to believe that he would do anything intentionally like that,” she added, tearing up over the accusations made against him.

Aubrey Gavello, one of the passengers on board the flight, said the plane was told by a flight attendant that Emerson had suffered a mental breakdown during the incident.

“After we did land and the gentleman was escorted off, the flight attendant got back on the speaker and said, plain and simple, ‘He had a mental breakdown. We needed to get him off the plane immediately’,” she told ABC.

Emerson was arrested by Port of Portland officers after the plane landed around 6:30pm local time on Sunday evening and has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder.

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The flight had to be diverted to Portland.
The flight had to be diverted to Portland. Picture: LinkedIn

He also faces an additional 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft, according to police documents.

“All passengers on board were able to travel on a later flight," Alaska Airlines said.

“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 Port of Portland Police Department and the FBI are now investigating the incident, according to Alaska Airlines.

The Federal Aviation Administration told US air carriers that the incident was "not connected in any way shape or form to current world events".

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