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Details Emerge About Off-Duty Pilot Arrested in Connection With Thwarted Alaska Airlines Incident

Facts About Off-Duty Pilot Arrested in Alaska Airlines Incident
Source: Unsplash

The off-duty pilot tried to initiate the plane’s fire suppression system, which would have stopped fuel from flowing to the engines.

Oct. 24 2023, Published 1:02 p.m. ET

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An off-duty pilot faces 83 counts of attempted murder after he allegedly tried to shut off a plane’s engines during a flight, according to officials.

Around 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 22, Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 took off from Everett, Washington, with 80 passengers and four crew aboard, including 44-year-old Joseph David Emerson, according to ABC News. The flight was headed to San Francisco, where Emerson, an off-duty pilot for Horizon Air, was scheduled to serve on the crew of a 737 flight.

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According to authorities, Emerson was in the cockpit of the Alaska Airlines plane, which was operated by regional carrier Horizon Air.

During Flight 2059, Emerson was seated in the jump seat behind the pilots when he allegedly attempted to initiate the plane’s fire suppression system, which cuts fuel to the engines, officials said.

The captain and first officer subdued Emerson and shortly before 6:30 p.m., the plane made an emergency landing at Oregon's Portland International Airport, where police were waiting.

According to audio captured by, one of the pilots operating the plane reported: “We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit. I think he’s subdued. We want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground.”

Attempted Murder
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Emerson was arrested and charged with 83 counts of attempted murder and 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person, and one count of first-degree endangering an aircraft, officials said.

He was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center and is scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 24.

Investigators have not disclosed the motive for the incident, but one passenger told ABC News, "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.'"

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Emerson is a certified pilot who just received medical clearance last month, according to KRON-TV. He lives in Pleasant Hill, California, with his wife and two young sons in a one-story house on a quiet residential street.

Neighbors described Emerson as “positive, very friendly, upbeat” to KRON-TV.

One neighbor told the station, “We still can’t believe it. We are still shocked. It doesn’t sound like Joe at all. I don’t know what happened to him mentally that he would do something like that.”

In a statement, Alaska Airlines wrote, “The crew secured the aircraft. 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.”


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