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Off-duty pilot tries to disrupt engines on Alaska Airlines flight

An off-duty pilot who was in a jump seat in the cockpit of an Alaska Airlines flight on Sunday has been charged with more than 80 counts of attempted murder after he tried to disrupt the engines, prompting the plane to divert to Portland, Oregon, authorities said.

Flight 2059, operated by Horizon Airlines, an Alaska Airlines regional subsidiary, left Everett, Washington, around 5:23 pm and was headed to San Francisco when it reported “a credible security threat related to an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who was traveling in the flight deck jump seat,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement on Monday.

“The jump seat occupant unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines,” Alaska Airlines said in the statement, adding that the captain and first officer “quickly responded, engine power was not lost and the crew secured the aircraft without incident.”

A pilot told an air traffic controller that the man had tried to cut the plane’s engines, according to an audio recording posted on, which shares live and archived recordings of air-traffic-control radio transmissions.

“We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit,” the pilot said, “and he doesn’t sound like he’s causing issues in the back right now. I think he is subdued.”

The pilot asked that law enforcement meet the plane upon landing.

The Port of Portland Police Department said in a statement that the flight crew “was able to detain the subject and the flight landed safely at Portland International Airport just before 6:30 pm”

The man was taken into custody without incident. The department identified him as Joseph D Emerson.

According to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Emerson, 44, was booked into jail on Monday morning on more than 80 charges of attempted murder, a felony; more than 80 counts of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor; and endangering an aircraft, a felony.

There were four crew members and 80 passengers on board the flight, a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines said. It is not uncommon for off-duty pilots to use cockpit jump seats to commute to and from work.

(Published 23 October 2023, 19:09 IST)

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