Off-Duty Pilot Charged With 83 Attempted Murders After Trying to Turn Engines Off

( – An off-duty pilot who had been in the cockpit during a flight from Everett, Washington, headed to San Francisco, California, allegedly tried to turn off the engines while the plane was in mid-air. The man is being charged with attempted murder for his actions, which could have played out far more tragically if crew members hadn’t jumped in as quickly as they did.

Booking records show that Joseph David Emerson, 44, was arrested at the Port of Portland after the airplane diverted to land at Portland International Airport. The charges against him include 83 class-A felony counts of attempted murder, 83 class-A misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment, and one class-C felony count of endangering an aircraft. He was also charged in federal court with interference with flight crew members.

Alaska Airlines issued a statement on the incident, sharing that Emerson had been traveling in the flight deck’s jump seat. He was off duty at the time. HeraldNet explains that flying in the extra seat is a mainstay of government employees as well as off-duty pilots traveling between assignments, and occupants don’t have any involvement in flying the plane.

Reuters reports that the airplane was at cruise altitude when Emerson attempted to deploy the craft’s fire-suppression system, which actively cuts off fuel to each engine when in use. There is a T-handle on each, which pilots can use in a fire emergency, but each must be fully engaged before they shut off an engine’s fuel supply. The crew jumped in to reset the T-handles before the off-duty pilot’s actions could affect the engines.

Emerson has been a pilot since 2012. His certifications have never previously been revoked, suspended, or denied. He has no previous record, and there’s no evidence that he had financial or relationship issues that may have contributed to the murder-suicide attempt. Court documents show he told investigators that he was on psychedelic mushrooms at the time of the incident. The Port of Portland Police, in coordination with the FBI, are currently investigating the case.

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