Pilot who ‘tried to shut down plane engines’ mid-flight is former safety officer

Joseph Emerson, 44, was the safety officer for the NRI Flying Club in California

Martha McHardy
Thursday 26 October 2023 18:23 BST
Joseph Emerson is charged with attempted murder
Joseph Emerson is charged with attempted murder (Joseph Emerson/Facebook)

The off-duty pilot who allegedly tried to crash an Alaska Airlines plane mid-flight was once the safety officer at his flying club in California.

Joseph Emerson, 44, was the safety officer for the NRI Flying Club in Concord, California, for two years before leaving the post in 2019, the New York Post reported.

“He was an authorised instructor in the NRI Flying Club and served for a year or two as the club safety officer where he promoted a culture of safety and continuous training,” club president Adam Silverthorne said.

Mr Emerson was charged with 83 counts of attempted murder after he allegedly tried to cut off fuel to the engines during a flight from Seattle to San Francisco on Sunday – before being subdued by the flight crew.

Alaska Airlines said that Mr Emerson was travelling in the flight deck jump seat in the cockpit when he suddenly tried to shut down both of the plane’s engines by pulling the fire extinguisher handles.

Mr Emerson was then arrested and escorted off the plane. None of the 80 passengers on board the flight were hurt.

Mr Emerson’s motive for the incident remains unclear, but Alaska Airlines said Mr Emerson did not have a history of medical issues.

“Throughout his career, Emerson completed his mandated FAA medical certifications in accordance with regulatory requirements, and at no point were his certifications denied, suspended or revoked,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement.

A Federal Aviation Administration pilot database also showed Mr Emerson received a medical clearance last month.

After the plane made an emergency landing in Portland, Mr Emerson admitted to police that he had had “a nervous breakdown” and had taken psychedelic mushrooms two days earlier.

He told police he had not slept in 40 hours and that he had struggled with depression for the past six months.

“I pulled both emergency shut-off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up,” he told police according to court documents.

Alaska Airlines said they are “deeply disturbed” by the 44-year-old’s actions.

Joseph David Emerson, left, 44, was arraigned in Multnomah County Circuit Court on Tues (AP)

Mr Silverthorne said it is “impossible” to imagine Mr Emerson trying to hurt anyone.

“It’s impossible for me to imagine him intentionally trying to harm anyone, it’s just not who he is,” he said.

One of the 44-year-old’s neighbours also echoed this.

“He plays with the kids all the time,” Karen Yee told the Daily Mail.

“He’s just a great guy. He’s very understanding of other people,” she said.

“We just couldn’t imagine him doing anything to hurt someone. It’s very hard for us to believe that he would do anything intentionally like that,” she added. “I can’t fathom him doing anything that would hurt anyone.”

Mr Emerson first joined the Alaska Air Group in 2001 as a first officer with Horizon before becoming a pilot with the airline in 2019.

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