The Alaska Airlines pilot who tried to shut off the engines of a plane during a flight over the weekend pleaded not guilty in a Multnomah County court on Tuesday.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office officially charged 44-year-old Joseph David Emerson with 83 counts of attempted murder for his actions on a flight that was forced to make an emergency landing at the Portland International Airport on Sunday.
Federal authorities also announced that they are charging Emerson with one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants.
Court documents filed in the case give insight into what happened during the flight that caused the commotion and what drove Emerson to make his fateful decision.
According to court documents, Emerson was flying in the jump seat of the cockpit during a Horizon Air flight from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco, California, when he pulled the emergency shut-off handles, which would shut down hydraulics and cut off fuel to the engine.
While Emerson told officers that he “felt the pilots were not paying attention and that something did not seem right,” the pilots said that Emerson threw his headset across the cockpit and yelled “I’m not okay” before grabbing the handles.
Then, one of the pilots grabbed Emerson by the wrists and wrestled him away before he could pull the handles all the way down and fully engage the system. They said the plane was “seconds away” from being a glider.
Flight attendants told police that Emerson was removed, he was “peaceful” and he said that “he just lost his best friend and asked when would this nightmare end.” They also blocked him from grabbing the handle for the emergency exit door.
One of the flight attendants then asked Emerson what she could do for him and he responded by putting his wrists together and saying, “You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad.” She also told police that he confessed to her that he “messed everything up” and “tried to kill everybody.”
With the fire alarm activated, the pilots had to divert the plane to the Portland airport, where Emerson was arrested shortly after landing.
During an interview with investigators, Emerson explained that he had struggled with depression for six years and that a friend recently died, but he never said that he was trying to kill himself. Emerson also said he had consumed “magic mushrooms” approximately 48 hours before the incident, but officers said he did not appear under the influence of intoxicants.
According to the affidavit, there were 83 people, including 11 children, aboard the plane during the incident.
Moving forward, a spokeswoman with the Multnomah district attorney’s office explained in an email that a judge has not yet determined if Emerson should remain in custody while his case is still pending.
The office spokeswoman also said the case will also be scheduled to be presented to a grand jury, which will determine if the case should proceed to felony prosecution.
Article updated Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023 at 7 p.m. Eastern