A pilot who was off duty is now facing multiple charges in connection with an incident where he allegedly tampered with jet engines while traveling on Alaska Airlines. On Sunday, the incident took place as the flight was traveling from Everett in Washington to San Francisco in California.
The airline informed the pilot of a “credible threat to security” posed by an authorized passenger in the cockpit. As a result, the flight was diverted to Portland International Airport.
Alaska Airlines and a reliable source confirmed that an off-duty pilot, who was seated in the flight’s cockpit as a passenger, tried to take control of the plane on Sunday. The flight was headed from Seattle to San Francisco.
The pilot in charge of the flight informed air traffic controllers that a passenger in the cockpit tried to shut down the engines during the flight. When traveling for official purposes or to commute to another airport, pilots may ride in the cockpit’s “jump seats”.
Online booking records indicate that Joseph Emerson, 44 years old, was arrested by the Port of Portland Police Department. He is charged with 83 felony charges of attempted murder, as well as 83 counts of recklessness and one count of endangering a plane.
CNN reported that Emerson, an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot, is accused of trying to seize control of a flight. It was not immediately clear which airline Emerson worked for.
After removing Emerson, one of the other pilots said to air traffic controllers: “We have the guy who tried to shut down the engines out of the cockpit. He doesn’t seem like he’s creating any issues in back right now.”
Alaska Airlines, in a statement following the incident, said that it was “grateful for the professional handling of the situation by Horizon flight crew” and appreciated the calmness and patience of its guests throughout the event. The airline is also cooperating with the law enforcement authorities as part of the ongoing investigation.
Emerson has been accused of trying the deploy a fire suppression system without being subdued first by crew members.
Emerson’s motive has yet to be determined. This is the most puzzling part of this story. What could possibly motivate an authorized pilot to be in a cockpit when he is off duty to try and shut down the plane’s engines with passengers on board? The “why” of Emerson’s strange and dangerous actions will remain a burning mystery until the investigation is completed.
This story also raises the issue of airline security. Should background checks be more thorough and stringent for cockpit personnel? Could this lead to changes to federal aviation regulations in the future?
It’s possible. This incident is not indicative of the effectiveness of the system that determines who should be at the controls.
The crew and their rapid response prevented a catastrophe, even though the passengers on the flight had a terrifying and harrowing journey. We may learn more after the investigation is completed.