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Off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot charged with 83 counts of attempted murder

The off-duty aviator tried to cut engine power mid-flight
Off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot charged with 83 counts of attempted murder
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com / Markus Mainka

An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot caused a mid-air scare.


Joseph D. Emerson is facing charges of attempted murder after allegedly trying to shut down the engines mid-flight, on Oct. 22. Emerson, 44, was riding in the cockpit of an Alaska Airlines flight from Washington state to San Francisco when he tried to cut off fuel to the engines. However, the quick response of the aircraft’s captain and first officer prevented the engines from failing completely.


Emerson was subdued by the flight crew and the plane was diverted to Portland, Oregon, where he was taken into custody by police. He is now being held without bail and has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft.

According to CNN, authorities do not believe the incident was an act of terrorism or ideologically motivated violence. Instead, they suspect it may have been the result of a mental health episode.


An assessment of Emerson’s psychological state is expected to be ordered as part of court proceedings. The suspect may also face additional charges.

In a statement reported by CNN , Alaska Airlines praised the quick response of the flight crew, stating that they “responded without hesitation to a difficult and highly unusual situation.” Passengers on the flight described a calm environment during the incident and commended the crew for the way they handled the situation. The FBI and Port of Portland police are currently investigating the incident.

The FAA has briefed other airlines on the preliminary details and assured them that the incident is not related to current world events. Emerson, who has worked in aviation for over two decades, had his most recent FAA medical examination last month and held a first-class medical certificate.

On Jan. 31, 2000, Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashed into the Pacific Ocean, killing all 88 people on board. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the cause of the accident was a loss of pitch control due to a failure in the horizontal stabilizer trim system.

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