“Is This Hell?” – Alaska Airlines Pilot Suffering Mid-Flight Breakdown Charged With Attempted Murder

An Alaska Airlines Pilot has been charged with attempted murder after he seemingly suffered a mid-flight breakdown and attempted to turn off the flight engines.

an Alaska Air Plane.
The breakdown began mid-flight, according to the pilots. © Alaska Air

The affidavit from the District of Oregon Police Department detailed that an off-duty pilot named Joseph David Emerson had attempted to shut the engines down during a flight. The incident occurred about halfway between Astoria and Portland.

The Alaska Airlines Pilot Attempted To Crash The Plane During A Mid-Flight Breakdown

According to FlightAware, the Alaska Airlines 2059 flight left Everett at 5:23pm and landed just over an hour later. During the beginning of the flight, Mr Emerson had appeared normal — speaking to Pilot 1 and Pilot 2 about the weather and how he had worked for Alaska Airlines for a decade. Pilot 1, flying the aircraft, said he hadn’t previously met Mr. Emerson.

While he was sitting down, Mr. Emerson “said I’m not okay”. Pilot two had turned round and observed Mr Emerson reaching up and grabbing the red fire handles and pulling them down. Pilot 1 informed police that pulling these would activate the fire suppression system, therefore shutting off the engine’s fuel supply.

Pilot 1 grabbed Mr. Emerson’s wrist while Pilot 2 declared an inflight emergency. Although initially resisting his grasp for about 25-30 seconds, Emerson settled down and did as he was told when he was asked to leave the cockpit. Once he had left, the pilots secured the cockpit door. According to Pilot 1, the entire altercation, from when Mr Emerson had told the pilots he was not okay to when he exited, lasted around 90 seconds.

Mr. Emerson would later tell police officers that, at the time, he believed he was asleep. At that moment, he believed pulling the handles would help him regain consciousness.

Alaska air plane flying
The plane was mid-flight when Emerson began to break down. © Alaska Air

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Mr. Emerson detailed his thought process during the incident.

“Yah… I pulled both emergency shut off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up.”

“I thought of a lot of traumatic things in that time where I was like, ‘Am I dead? Is this hell?'”

Claiming that he thought he was trapped in a dream, Mr. Emerson had attempted to wake up.

During the altercation, flight attendants received a call stating Emerson was ‘losing it’ from the plane’s cockpit. After he exited the cockpit, Emerson walked peacefully to the back of the plane, telling attendants that he “just got kicked out of the flight deck.” Despite his tranquil demeanour, Emerson told an attendant, “You need to cuff me right now, or it’s going to be bad”.

Mr Emerson was then cuffed to a flight attendant’s chair. He was heard making statements like “I messed everything up,” “he tried to kill everybody,” and that he [Emerson] had just put 84 peoples’ lives at risk tonight – including his own.

Upon his arrest, Mr Emerson stated that he believed he was having a ‘nervous breakdown’ and told police that he had not slept in 40 hours. He also said that this was his first time taking magic mushrooms, which contain psilocybin, known for hallucinogenic effects. Mr. Emerson’s lawyer, Noah Horst, has denied that his client was under the influence of any drugs.

A plane cockpit
The altercation in the cockpit reportedly lasted around 90 seconds. © Cory W. Watts, Wikimedia Commons.

Alaska Airlines Issued Class Action Lawsuit

Although no one was injured during the incident, Alaska Airlines has been issued a lawsuit by three passengers due to the incident. Three passengers seek damages for emotional distress alongside ticket costs.  Plaintiffs detailed that they had suffered “nausea on later flights, insomnia, anxiety and flashbacks of the incident.” Additionally, the plaintiffs implore the airline to conduct sufficient assessments of their crews before taking off.

The plaintiffs justified their need for mental health screenings concerning several other cases where disturbed pilots had killed their passengers. These included the case of Jonathon J. Dunn, a Delta Airlines co-pilot who had attempted to kill his fellow pilot in the cockpit. Eerily similar to the case of Joseph David Emerson, a suspected pilot suicide last year saw a China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 suddenly descend, resulting in the deaths of 132 people.

Mr Emerson’s interview with the New York Times further identified issues with the carrier’s approach to mental wellbeing. In the interview conducted in jail, Mr Emerson said he feared his career might be at risk if he began treatment for depression. The pilot’s apprehensions regarding seeking treatment for his mental health conditions indicate a need for further support in the industry.

According to Multnomah County Sheriff’s booking records, Mr. Emerson has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder and reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft.

What do you think about this story? Were you affected by this or another incident? Let us know in the comments below!

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Bella Pelster
Bella Pelsterhttp://www.travelradar.aero
I'm a Londoner with a huge passion for travel, history and sustainability. In my spare time I love reading novels (any genre, any author) and watching television and films (mostly the sopranos)!
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