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Hero flight crew thwarted pilot attempting to crash plane

PORTLAND, Oregon, October 23, 2023—An off-duty airplane pilot onboard Alaska Airlines flight 2059, leaving Everett’s Seattle Paine Field International Airport (PAE) for San Francisco, is facing 167 charges after attempting to disrupt the plane’s engines Sunday evening forcing an emergency landing in Portland.

The off-duty pilot, identified as 44-year-old Joseph D. Emerson, was taken into custody the minute the plane touched down and now faces 83 counts of first-degree attempted murder and 83 counts of endangering an aircraft, KOIN, a Portland news agency reported. Each attempted murder charge is a Class A Felony carrying at least 7.5 years per count.

Emerson is being held at Multnomah County Detention Center after being booked around 4 a.m. Monday morning.

Alaska Airlines
SOURCE: Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office

Emerson was reportedly sitting in the jump seat of the plane when he attempted to sabotage the flight which was operated by Horizon Air by trying to “unsuccessfully attempt to disrupt the operation of the engines.” Emerson was an authorized occupant of the cockpit.

The plane’s flight crew reported a “credible threat,” managed to secure the plane without losing engine power and worked with Air Traffic Control to perform an emergency landing at Portland’s PDX airport.

Emerson’s motives are unclear, and no weapons were involved in the incident. He is resident of Pleasant Hill, California and if convicted faces at least 622.5 years in federal prison.

According to the released air traffic audio recordings by KATU, the pilot of the flight removed Emerson from the cockpit and requested immediate law enforcement presence upon landing.

“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,” the pilot told air traffic control in the audio recording. “I think he’s subdued.”

None of the plane’s 80 passengers or four crew were injured and were later able to board a later flight to San Francisco.

“I am grateful for the professional flight crew and air traffic controllers who stepped up to guide this plane safely to Portland. FAA supports law enforcement in their response and will be focused on any safety considerations for the future that emerge from investigations,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, tweeted Monday.

The Port of Portland is saying the incident is now under investigation by both local and federal agencies.

“The FBI is investigating and can assure the traveling public there is no continuing threat related to this incident,” FBI Portland tweeted Monday morning.

Flight 2059 left Paine Field around 5:23 p.m. Sunday. The emergency landing was successful around 6:30 p.m.

Michael Jernigan, a former Alaska airlines commercial pilot, told the New York Times it’s not uncommon for off-duty pilots to hitch rides in the jump seat while commute to and from jobs. He added he could only speculate why Emerson, who hails from Pleasant Hills, California, would attempt to shut down the motors mid-flight saying the “whole situation was very strange.”

“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,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement Monday.

This is a developing story please check back later for updates.

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