Pilot charged with attempted plane hijacking says he took psychedelic mushrooms

Portland, Oregon - An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot was charged Monday with 83 counts of attempted murder after he allegedly tried to "disrupt the operations" of the engines of a plane he was aboard, according to the airline. New court docs on Tuesday revealed he had taken drugs.

An off-duty pilot was booked Monday on 83 counts of attempted murder after allegedly trying to "disrupt the operations" of the engines of a plane he was aboard.
An off-duty pilot was booked Monday on 83 counts of attempted murder after allegedly trying to "disrupt the operations" of the engines of a plane he was aboard.  © Unsplash/Kevin Woblick

Alaska Airlines pilot Joseph Emerson (44) was on a Sunday flight operated by Horizon Airlines from Seattle to San Francisco when he allegedly tried to take over the aircraft, the airline said. Emerson was riding in the "jump seat," which is an additional seat often used for flight attendants and off-duty pilots to sit during takeoff and landing.

Horizon Airlines is a regional carrier owned by the parent company that owns Alaska Airlines.

After a struggle with pilots he was subdued, according to the Port of Portland Police.

The flight was diverted to Portland International Airport. It landed around 6:30 PM local time and Emerson was arrested by the Port of Portland Police.

"The jump seat occupant unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines. The Horizon Captain and First Officer quickly responded, engine power was not lost and the crew secured the aircraft without incident," said a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines in a statement.

"All passengers on board were able to travel on a later flight. We are grateful for the professional handling of the situation by the Horizon flight crew and appreciate our guests' calm and patience throughout this event."

What charges does the off-duty pilot face?

Along with the attempted murder counts – one for each occupant of the plane – Emerson was booked on 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft, according to online court records.

"We've got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit, and he doesn't sound like he's causing any issues in the back right now," the pilot said to Seattle-area air traffic controllers, per the Mercury News.

"I think he's subdued. Other than that, we want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and are parked."

The Port of Portland Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

UPDATE, October 24, 3:50 PM EDT: Pilot said he took psychedelic mushrooms

Court documents reveal Emerson said he was having a nervous breakdown on the flight after he had consumed psychedelic mushrooms, as per The New York Times.

He told police he hadn't slept in 40 hours and had been depressed. He also "said it was his first time taking mushrooms," according to the criminal complaint.

"I pulled both emergency shut off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up," he also told officers.

He has been charged federally with one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants, in addition to his attempted murder charges and endangering an aircraft.

After Emerson was forced out of the cockpit, he allegedly said to a flight attendant, "You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad," and later tried to grab the handle of an emergency exit door.

Cover photo: Unsplash/Kevin Woblick

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