On Sunday, an off-duty pilot who was sitting in the jump seat in the cockpit of an Alaska-affiliate carrier, attempted to wrestle control of the aircraft and shut down the engines.
‘We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit. He doesn’t sound like he’s causing any issue in the back right now, and I think he’s subdued. Other than that, yeah, we want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked,’ the captain calmly tells ground control.
The suspect has been identified as Joseph Emerson, 44. As a result of his actions, the pilot is facing 83 counts of attempted murder. There were 80 passengers on board the plane, including children, and four crew.
The flight was en route from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco and was forced to diver to Portland as a result of Emerson’s actions.
Joseph Emerson has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder for each person on board the Embraer 175 plane on Sunday
Passengers onboard the Alaska Airlines flight said that they were told the plane was diverting due to a ‘medical emergency’. Aubrey Gavello, who was on board the plane, said a flight attendant told passengers that Emerson suffered a mental breakdown
One passenger described Emerson’s behavior as ‘bizarre.’ Bailey Beck told The San Francisco Chronicle that after being removed from the cockpit, the pilot walked to the back of the plane without having to be restrained where he was handcuffed to a rail.
A Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson said that the suspect tried to disable the engines by engaging the the engine fire-suppression system.
Alaska Airlines said Emerson grabbed the engine fire handle, also known as the fire suppression system, which consists of a T-shaped handle for each engine.
‘If the T-handle is fully deployed, a valve in the wing closes to shut off fuel to the engine. In this case, the quick reaction of our crew to reset the T-handles ensured engine power was not lost,’ Alaska said.
Retired airline pilot John Cox told The Washington Post that enabling the fire system is east to do. ‘You want them to be accessible in case of an engine fire,’ he said.
Emerson’s neighbors told DailyMail.com that he lives with his wife, Sarah Stretch, and two young sons in a close-knit residential block in Pleasant Hill, California, in the rolling hills east of San Francisco.
Formal charges against Emerson ere expected to be filed on Tuesday in Multnomah County court in Portland, where he was due to appear for an afternoon arraignment and enter a plea, a spokesperson for the county district attorney said.
Emerson joined Alaska Air Group as a Horizon first officer in August 2001 and in 2012, left Horizon to join Virgin America as a pilot, Alaska said.
Emerson’s neighbors told DailyMail.com that he lives with his wife, Sarah Stretch, and two young sons in a close-knit residential block in Pleasant Hill, California , in the rolling hills east of San Francisco
Lou Rossi, an elderly neighbor, described Emerson (pictured) as a sweet man who recently helped him find items in a local Safeway grocery story and let him take some logs from his house to build a work bench for his own son
Emerson has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder for each person on board the Embraer 175 plane, which took off from Everett in suburban Seattle at 5.23pm on Sunday. (Pictured: the same plane type as the one involved in the Sunday incident)
Emerson became an Alaska Airlines first officer after Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin America in 2016 and became an Alaska Airlines captain in 2019. Alaska said ‘at no point were his certifications denied, suspended or revoked.’
‘The crew was able to subdue the suspect and [he] was removed from the flight deck,’ the FAA notice said. The engines were never disabled, Alaska said.
Aubrey Gavello, who was on board the plane, said a flight attendant told passengers that Emerson suffered a mental breakdown.
‘After we did land and the gentleman was escorted off, the flight attendant got back on the speaker and said, plain and simple, ‘He had a mental breakdown. We needed to get him off the plane immediately’,’ she told ABC.
She said passengers were not immediately alerted to what Alaska Airlines called the ‘security threat’, until a flight attendant told them over the speaker that there was ‘an emergency situation and the plane needed to land immediately’.
Gavello said they were later told it was a ‘medical emergency’, and she heard a flight attendant tell the suspect, ‘We’re going to be fine, it’s OK, we’ll get you off the plane.’
Another passenger, Alex Wood, said the pilot announced that ‘there was a disturbance in the cockpit.’
‘It was very professional, handled very calmly, and we didn’t really know what was going on until we landed,’ he told ABC.
Once the plane landed, Wood said police went to the back of the aircraft and escorted a handcuffed man off the plane.
He noted that the suspect ‘was wearing a lanyard, a sweater’ and he ‘looked like an airline employee.’
Neighbors describe Emerson as a happy, playful dad, a friendly man with no issues they knew about. He would play basketball with his kids on a court he built for them in the back yard, and invited neighbors over for parties.
They also had positive things to say about wife, describing her as a doting mother and a swimming coach, who taught physical education at a local community college.
‘It is just really shocking, disturbing news,’ said next-door neighbor Karen Yee. ‘They are excellent neighbors. He is a fantastic father. He plays with the kids all the time. He’s very friendly. He’s just a great guy.
‘He’s very understanding of other people,’ she said. ‘We have a son with special needs, and he’s very good to him. 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,’ Yee added, tearfully. ‘I can’t fathom him doing anything that would hurt anyone.’