An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder after he allegedly tried to disable the engines of a passenger plane mid-flight.
Alaska Airlines Flight 2059, operated by regional arm Horizon Air, diverted and landed safely in Portland, Ore., after the “credible security threat” Sunday night, the airline told Global News.
The off-duty pilot was sitting in the cockpit’s jump seat when he allegedly attempted to “disrupt the operation of the engines.”
The flight’s captain and first officer “quickly responded” and the crew were able to secure the aircraft, Alaska Airlines said. “Engine power was not lost.”
Joseph David Emerson, 44, was booked on 83 counts of attempted murder and 83 counts of reckless endangerment, according to booking records from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. Emerson also faces a single count of endangering an aircraft.
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot database shows Emerson is listed as a certified pilot who received a medical clearance last month, Reuters reported. It is standard practice for off-duty pilots to sit in jump seats to return home or to a future flight assignment.
An FAA notice sent to airlines states that the suspect tried to deploy the plane’s fire suppression system.
Audio of the incident inside the cockpit was posted by LiveATC, which broadcasts live air traffic control radio communication. An air traffic controller in Portland can be heard asking the pilots of Flight 2059 to “let me know the threat level.”
“I’ll just give you a heads-up. We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit,” the pilot says calmly. “It doesn’t sound like he’s causing any issue at the back. I think he’s subdued.
“Other than that, we want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked.”
The FAA told airlines in a separate notice on Monday that the incident “is not connected in any way, shape or form to current world events” but said it is “always good practice to maintain vigilance.”
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Alaska Airlines said all the passengers on board were accommodated on other flights.
“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,” the airline stated.
The FBI is investigating the incident alongside Port of Portland police.
In a statement, the FBI said it “can assure the traveling public there is no continuing threat related to this incident.”
Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 took off from Everett, Wash., just before 5:30 p.m. and was supposed to travel to San Francisco. The plane landed in Portland just before 6:30 p.m., according to Flight Aware data. The plane was an Embraer 175 regional jet.
— With files from Reuters
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