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Off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot warned ‘I am not okay’ before alleged attempt to disable plane engines

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An Alaska Airlines jet departs John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, CA on Monday, August 8, 2022.

Medianews Group/orange County Register Via Getty Images | Medianews Group | Getty Images

An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot was charged in federal court after allegedly attempting to shut down an in-flight plane’s engines on Sunday, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Joseph David Emerson, 44, has been in custody since Sunday when a San Francisco-bound Horizon Air plane, which was operating Alaska Airlines Flight 2059, diverted to Portland International Airport. Emerson, traveling in the jump seat of the cockpit, allegedly attempted to shut down the engines by trying to engage with the fire suppression system, the airline said.

Pilots regularly pick up jump seats in commercial cockpits to commute.

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Emerson was previously charged with 83 counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and a count of endangering an aircraft, according to booking records from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon.

The new federal charge was for allegedly interfering with flight crew members, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

The flight’s pilots told investigators that there was no indication of anything wrong early in the flight, according to court records.

When sitting in the cockpit jump seat, Emerson allegedly said: “I am not okay.” The other pilot then saw him allegedly reach, grab and pull down fire handles, according to the court filing.

One pilot said Emerson “had to be wrestled with” while one of the aircraft’s other pilots declared an inflight emergency and diverted to Portland, the court filing said. After leaving the cockpit, Emerson told a flight attendant “you need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad,” and during the descent he tried to grab a handle of the emergency exit door,” and was stopped by a flight attendant, the document said.

— CNBC’s Gabrielle Fonrouge contributed to this article.

Source: CNBC

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