An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who has been accused of attempted murder for trying to shut down the engines in-flight while in the cockpit of a regional jet has proffered a number of defenses including that his body had an unexpected reaction to psychedelic mushrooms and that he had not slept in 40 hours.
Alaska Airlines Pilot Joseph David Emerson Took Mushrooms Before Flight, Was Sleepless And Depressed
When Joseph David Emerson was arrested after allegedly trying to shut down the engines of an Embraer 175 mid-flight, he was interviewed by authorities seeking to understand what could have driven the answer. Some of those details have now surfaced:
- Emerson joined Horizon Air in 2001 and pivoted to Virgin America in 2012 before becoming an Alaska Airlines pilots in 2016 when it acquired Virgin America
- In 2019 he became a captain on Alaska Airlines
- Emerson claimed he had a mental breakdown triggered by a number of factors
- He had not slept in 40 hours
- He had battled depression for six months
- Before the flight, he ingested psychedelic mushrooms for the first time, which may be the most likely contributing factor for his actions onboard
- Emerson also claimed that he felt that the pilots “weren’t paying attention to what was going on”
- As to why he deployed the engine fire suppression system, he explained, “I pulled both emergency shut off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up”
- When he attempted to shut off the engines, he engaged in a brief struggle with pilots before leaving the cockpit
- One pilot grabbed his wrists and tried to restrain him while the other pilot through the aircraft
- 25-30 seconds later, Emerson stopped struggling
- In the passenger cabin, he was restrained as the aircraft quickly diverted to Portland, Oregon (PDX)
- Upon leaving the cockpit, Emerson purportedly told a flight attendant, “You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad”
- After being restrained in the rear of the aircraft, he attempted to grab the handle of an emergency exit door, but a flight attendant stop him
- Once the aircraft was on the ground, the flight attendnat told everyone to remain seated, explaining, “He had a mental breakdown. We needed to get him off the plane immediately”
- He waived his right to counsel, telling investigators, “I’m admitting to what I did: I’m not fighting any charges you want to bring against me”
In addition to the 167 criminal counts Emerson faces in Multnomah County, Oregon Circuit Court, he now faces a federal charge of interfering with flight crew members and attendants. He was arraigned on those charges yesterday afternoon.
Emerson has a clean record both in terms of criminality and concerning his pilots license.
You can review the criminal complaint here.
This is a tragic case. I believe Emerson must be held accountable for his actions. He will never fly a commercial aircraft again. But I appreciate that he did not try to run and hide from his actions. Yes, it was the magic mushrooms that likely triggered this. But rather than try to deflect blame, he candidly admitted to what he did and is now willing to accept the consequences for them. I can respect them, even while condemning his actions. Dealing with depression can be difficult and a mental breakdown seems very obvious here. Hopefully Emerson will now get the help he needs to overcome this life-altering hour onboard a Horizon Air flight.
image: Alaksa Airlines