An off-duty pilot, who was sitting in a jump seat and tried to “shut down” the Alaska Airlines‘ plane engines during the flight—while on psychedelic mushrooms— now has a federal charge tacked onto his 83 counts of attempted murder.
On Tuesday, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon announced that Joseph David Emerson, 44, has been charged by criminal complaint with one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants.
According to the affidavit, he told police he was experiencing a “nervous breakdown,” and had not slept in 40 hours. Mr Emerson explained to the officers: “I didn’t feel okay. It seemed like the pilots weren’t paying attention to what was going on. They didn’t…it didn’t seem right.”
The off-duty pilot then said, “Yah…I pulled both emergency shut-off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up.” Although he first said he didn’t take any medication, he later admitted that it was his first time taking psychedelic mushrooms.
Mr Emerson, who is from Pleasant Hill, California, was flying from Seattle to San Francisco on Sunday, before being diverted to Portland due to a “credible security threat” caused by Mr Emerson’s attempt to turn off the engines mid-flight, the airline told The Independent.
The US Attorney’s Office provided more information about the incident, writing that Mr Emerson “attempted to grab and pull two red fire handles that would have activated the plane’s emergency fire suppression system and cut off fuel to its engines. After a brief physical struggle with the pilots, Emerson exited the cockpit.”
Flight attendants then put the 44-year-old in wrist restraints and put him in the rear of the plane, but that allegedly didn’t stop him from trying to grab the handle of an emergency exit during the aircraft’s descent. “A flight attendant stopped him by placing her hands on top of his,” the release stated.
After a safe landing, Mr Emerson was then arrested by the Port of Portland Police Department.
The “captain and first officer quickly responded, engine power was not lost and the crew secured the aircraft without incident,” the airline said.
Before the federal charge came to light, the off-duty pilot was hit with 167 charges: 83 counts of first-degree attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft.
“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 issues in the back right now,” the plane’s pilot told Seattle-area air traffic controllers in audio recorded by LiveATC.net. “I think he’s subdued. Other than that, we want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and are parked.”
The Seattle Times reported that the plane, an Embraer E-175 regional jet, had taken off from Paine Field airport carrying 80 passengers.
“Following appropriate FAA procedures and guidance from air traffic control, the flight safely diverted to Portland International Airport,” the airline added. “The event is being investigated by law enforcement authorities,” including the FBI. Alaska Airlines also added that “all passengers on board were able to travel on a later flight.”
He is currently being held in custody in Multnomah County.