Airline pilot’s ‘nervous breakdown’ included a second attempt to down a flight after ingesting psychedelic mushrooms

Off-duty airline pilot’s “mental breakdown” included a second attempt to down a flight days after ingesting psychedelics and going without sleep.

(Video: KGW News)

Sunday, an Alaskan Airlines flight operated by Horizon Air traveling between Everett, Washington and San Francisco, California made an unscheduled landing in Portland, Oregon. There law enforcement officials boarded the plane to arrest 44-year-old off-duty pilot Joseph Emerson after he had been restrained following an attempt to cut the fuel to the engines and to open an emergency door.

“I didn’t feel okay. It seemed like the pilots weren’t paying attention to what was going on. They didn’t…it didn’t seem right,” an affidavit detailed Emerson saying after the incident.

Cleared by gate agents and flight attendants, the off-duty pilot had been authorized to ride as a jump-seat passenger where, as he explained it, “I pulled both emergency shut-off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up.”

Speaking with officers, Emerson himself stated that he had had a “nervous breakdown” having taken psychedelic mushrooms for the first time two days earlier and gone roughly 40 hours without sleep.

Had the flight crew been unsuccessful in restraining the off-duty pilot, the federal affidavit detailed that pulling “the red engine shutoff handles down all the way…would have shut down the hydraulics and the fuel to the engines, turning the aircraft into a glider within seconds.”

However, even after he had been taken to the back of the aircraft and his wrists were restrained, Emerson reportedly made another bid to disrupt the flight as he attempted to open an emergency door.

Comments made aboard the flight were detailed in the affidavit that noted him telling a flight attendant, “You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad,” and his telling a crew member, “I messed everything up…tried to kill everybody.”

“I made eye contact with him,” a woman aboard the flight told KGW News explaining it was “one of those soul-chilling, like dead in the eyes, like, just calm,” as Emerson observed everyone around him.

Passenger Aubrey Gavello had told ABC News, “The flight attendant got back on the speaker and said, plain and simple, ‘He had a mental breakdown.'”

Audio from air-traffic control featured the pilot explaining, “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.”

“We’d like law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and park,” he added and noted the threat level had been reduced following the breach of the cockpit.

Despite telling the police in Portland, Oregon, “I’m admitting to what I did. I’m not fighting any charges you want to bring against me, guys,” Emerson pled not guilty in court Tuesday to 83 counts of reckless endangerment, misdemeanors; and 83 counts of attempted murder along with one count of endangering an aircraft, felonies.

Neighbor Karen Yee had spoke with the New York Post and said, “When I heard about the incident my initial response was [that] he was having some kind of psychological issue because it’s not at all normal for him.”

“They are a great family and I just feel bad for them,” she added. “I just can’t imagine him doing what he was doing. The whole neighborhood is in total shock because he’s loved by everybody.”

Offering continued updates, Alaska Airlines stated, “Emerson was removed from service indefinitely and relieved from all duties at Alaska Airlines. Consistent with our pilots’ collective bargaining agreement, we are consulting with our partners in labor regarding his employment status.”

“We are deeply proud of our Horizon flight crew and their quick actions both in the flight deck and in the rear of the aircraft,” the statement continued. “Working together, consistent with their training, they performed their critical roles exceptionally well, representing the best of their profession.”

Kevin Haggerty


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