The off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who attempted to shut down the engines of a jet pleaded not guilty on Thursday. Joseph David Emerson will have to face 84 charges including 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person and one count of endangering aircraft in the first degree.
The incident took place on October 22 aboard Flight 2059 flying from Everett, Washington to San Francisco. The off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot was seated on a cockpit jumpseat of a 737 jet, hitching to San Francisco.
He then tried to pull the fire extinguisher handles, a move that would’ve shut the engines down. He allegedly said “I’m not okay,” before he attempted to shut down the engine. Fortunately, the two pilots flying the jet stopped the off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot. The complaint alleges that the two pilots wrestled with Emerson for around 25-30 seconds before they subdued him.
The flight was diverted to Portland where the 44-year-old off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot was arrested. Emerson’s lawyer, Levi Horst entered a not-guilty plea on behalf of his client. A judge approved Emerson’s release from custody provided that he follows seven bail conditions including not having contact with an operable aircraft at least 30 feet.
Emerson posted a $50,000 security bond and he was required to reach out for professional mental health and not take any intoxicants including alcohol. His next hearing is scheduled for January 19.
He was described by his lawyer as being in a dream-like state when he “suffered a panic attack.” He also admitted to having taken “a small amount of psilocybin” two days before the incident.
According to investigators, Emerson informed them that he didn’t sleep for 40 hours before he had a “nervous breakdown.”
His attorney mentioned in a statement that his client “never intended to hurt another person or put anyone at risk– just wanted to return home to his wife and children.” The lawyer continued, “Simply put: Captain Emerson thought he was in a dream; his actions were taken in a single-minded effort to wake up from that dream and return home to his family.”