A “mental breakdown” is now blamed for a terrifying incident where an Alaska Airlines pilot attempted to shut down the engines on an airliner filled with passengers.
Authorities say 44-year-old Joseph Emerson was not on duty when he apparently went berserk. He was riding in the cockpit jump seat of a Sunday flight from Washington to San Francisco when he allegedly tried to activate the fire suppression system on the airliner.
If successful, this would have cut the fuel supply to the engines and sent the aircraft hurtling to the ground.
The fight’s captain and first officer thankfully were able to subdue Emerson before making an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon.
There the 83 passengers were told in stark detail what transpired mid-flight at 35,000 feet.
Passenger Aubrey Gavello recalled the announcement to ABC News. “The flight attendant got back on the speaker and said, plain and simple, ‘He had a mental breakdown. We need to get him off the plane immediately.’”
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Alaska Airlines confirmed that all passengers were safe and the plane did not lose power.
Emerson was detained by authorities upon landing and, among other charges, faces 83 counts of attempted murder. He faces another 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person and a single count of endangering an aircraft in the first degree.
Neighbors in his Pleasant Hill community near San Francisco were stunned by the news that he allegedly attempted to crash a loaded airliner.
Karen Yee told the Daily Mail that Emerson was always kind to her special needs son. “They were 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.”
Another neighbor, Air Force veteran Lou Rossi, told the outlet that he could not think of one derogatory thing to say about Emerson. He recounted bonding over their love of aviation and said he would vouch for his character.
He added that he frequently saw news reports where neighbors say they are shocked that a person would do something like this. “All I can tell you is he is a really nice man, and his wife Sarah is a really nice lady, and they never, ever even remotely made me think anything negative about them.”
Emerson is behind bars at the Multnomah County Detention Center in Portland, Oregon pending his arraignment.