Off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot charged with attempted murder for trying to cut engines midflight


An Alaska Airlines flight made an emergency diversion to Portland, Oregon, on Sunday after an off-duty pilot , identified as 44-year-old Joseph Emerson, unsuccessfully tried to shut down the plane’s engines midflight.

Alaska Airlines said in a statement that the incident happened onboard Alaska Airlines Flight 2059, which was operated by Horizon Air. The flight was heading from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco with 80 passengers and four crew members onboard, including Emerson. The airline said Emerson was traveling in the jump seat in the cockpit and unsuccessfully tried to “disrupt the operation of the engines.” The Horizon captain and first officer detained Emerson and landed the plane just before 6:30 p.m. PDT in Portland, where Emerson was taken into custody without incident. The FBI said that no injuries were reported.

Emerson was arrested by the Port of Portland Police Department after the plane landed safely at Portland’s airport, and was charged with 83 felony counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft.  The FBI’s field office in Portland said it was also investigating the incident, and adding: “There is no continuing threat related to this incident.”

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration sent guidance to U.S. air carriers that the incident was “not connected in any way shape or form to current world events.”  Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed gratitude to the flight crew and air traffic controllers who safely got the plane to Portland, posting on social media that the FAA will focus on “any safety considerations for the future that emerge from investigations.”

Alaska Airlines said, “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.”

Editorial credit: Ceri Breeze /