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Everett flight diverted after off-duty pilot accused of trying to shut down engines midflight

Joseph David Emerson held on 83 counts each of attempted murder, reckless endangerment

Flyers wait in Seattle Paine Field International Airport in February 2022 in Everett. An off-duty pilot was arrested after he allegedly tried to shut down the engines midflight on a 76-seat Horizon Air Embraer 175 that left Everett at 5:23 p.m. Sunday
Flyers wait in Seattle Paine Field International Airport in February 2022 in Everett. An off-duty pilot was arrested after he allegedly tried to shut down the engines midflight on a 76-seat Horizon Air Embraer 175 that left Everett at 5:23 p.m. Sunday (Ryan Berry)

PORTLAND, Ore. — An off-duty pilot riding in the extra seat in the cockpit of a Horizon Air passenger jet tried to shut down the engines during a flight between Everett and San Francisco and had to be subdued by the crew, according to a pilot flying the plane.

Authorities in Oregon identified the man as Joseph David Emerson, 44. He was being held Monday, Oct. 23 on 83 counts each of attempted murder and reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft, according to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.

The San Francisco-bound flight on Sunday diverted to Portland, Oregon, where it was met by officers from the Port of Portland, who took Emerson into custody. The incident occurred on a 76-seat Horizon Air Embraer 175 that left Seattle Paine Field International Airport at 5:23 p.m.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, which owns Horizon, a regional carrier, did not name Emerson, but said Monday that the threat was posed by one of its pilots who was off duty but authorized to occupy the cockpit jump seat.

The airline said the captain and co-pilot reacted quickly, “engine power was not lost and the crew secured the aircraft without incident.” Alaska said in a statement that no weapons were involved.

One of the pilots told air traffic controllers that the man who posed the threat had been removed from the cockpit.

“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 issue in the back right now, and I think he’s subdued,” one of the pilots said on audio captured by LiveATC.net. “Other than that, we want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked.”

The FBI office in Portland said it was investigating “and can assure the traveling public there is no continuing threat related to this incident.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said it was helping law enforcement investigations, but declined further comment about the incident.


FAA records indicate that Emerson has a valid license to fly airline planes. It was not clear Monday whether he was represented by a lawyer.

There have been crashes that investigators believe were deliberately caused by pilots. Authorities said the co-pilot of a Germanwings jet that crashed in the French Alps in 2015 had practiced putting the plane into a dive.

In 2018, a Horizon Air ground agent stole an empty plane at SeaTac International Airport in Seattle and crashed into a small island in Puget Sound after being chased by military jets that scrambled to intercept the plane. The man told an air traffic controller that he “wasn’t really planning on landing” the aircraft, and described himself as “a broken guy.”

Alaska Airlines did not immediately say how many passengers were on board Sunday’s flight. Alaska said passengers continued on to San Francisco on a later flight.

When the jump seat, a third seat in the cockpit, is occupied it’s often filled by an off-duty pilot, but the seat can be used by other airline employees or federal safety inspectors.

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