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Alaska Airlines pilot faces over 80 attempted murder charges for allegedly trying to crash plane

By Jake Beardslee · October 24, 2023

In brief…

  • Off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot arrested for trying to shut down engines mid-flight
  • Suspect pulled fire extinguisher handles to cut fuel supply
  • Flight diverted to Portland, no injuries to passengers
  • Pilot faces dozens of attempted murder and other charges
  • Incident potentially result of mental health crisis
An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot faces dozens of attempted murder charges for allegedly trying to shut down the engines mid-flight, forcing an emergency landing.  Mertbiol/Wikimedia

An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot faces dozens of attempted murder charges after he allegedly tried to shut down the engines on a commercial flight he was riding in Sunday, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon, authorities say.

The suspect, 44-year-old Joseph D. Emerson, was a passenger on Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 from Everett, Washington to San Francisco when he entered the cockpit and pulled fire extinguisher handles which cut off fuel supply to the engines, the airline said. The quick action of the captain and first officer prevented the engines from failing completely. Emerson was subdued by the crew and arrested by police when the flight diverted to Portland International Airport, according to the Port of Portland.

Emerson is being held without bail on 83 counts each of attempted murder and reckless endangerment, and one count of endangering an aircraft, jail records show. Investigators do not believe this was an act of terrorism, but potentially the result of a mental health crisis, a law enforcement source told CNN.

Passengers said the crew kept everyone calm and that they did not realize the seriousness of the situation until after they landed and Emerson was removed from the plane. None of the passengers were injured.

Emerson has worked as a pilot for over 20 years, most recently for Alaska Airlines. Authorities say he had a valid medical certificate and no issues with certifications being denied or revoked. The FBI and FAA are investigating.