Pilot accused of trying to crash plane out of custody


A former Alaska Airlines pilot and Pleasant Hill resident who allegedly tried to cut the engines to a passenger flight while off-duty and in a cockpit jumpseat has been released from custody, according to media reports out of Oregon.

Joseph Emerson had been in custody at the Multnomah County (Ore.) Detention Center since his arrest following the Oct. 22 incident aboard Horizon Air flight 2509 from Everett, Wash. to San Francisco.

Emerson was originally charged with endangering an aircraft and 83 counts of attempted murder in the incident. This week, an Oregon grand jury indicted him on the endangering charge, and replaced the attempted murder counts with 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Judge Thomas Ryan said Emerson was free to travel back to his Pleasant Hill home but that he was not allowed to fly. According to Oregon TV station KOIN, the conditions of Emerson’s release also require him not to use any controlled substance, including alcohol; to submit to drug tests; and to participate in mental health counseling.

He also must stay at least 30 feet away from any operable aircraft, the station reported.

Calls to Emerson’s attorney Noah Horst were not returned immediately Thursday afternoon. He told the station that Emerson posted $5,000 of a $50,000 bail to secure his release.

Horst and Emerson’s other attorneys Ethan Levi and Norah Van Dusen said in a statement Tuesday that Emerson never had any criminal intent and that they “look forward to being able to present a fulsome defense at trial and bring forth all the facts and circumstances to a jury.”

According to authorities, Horizon Air 2059 was 39 minutes into its flight when Emerson threw off his headset and said, “I’m not OK” reaching for handles that are meant to cut off fuel to the engines during a fire. The pilot and co-pilot wrestled him away from the flight controls and ejected him from the cockpit.

Emerson later told investigators that he hadn’t slept in 40 hours; that he had been depressed and was suffering through the recent death of his best friend; and that he had taken psychedelic mushrooms less than 40 hours earlier, according to state and federal affidavits.

In his only interview since then, Emerson told the New York Times he was overcome with a growing conviction that he was only imagining the flight and needed to take drastic action to bring what he thought was a dream to an end.

Officers arrested Emerson after the flight made an emergency landing in Portland. Eighty-three people, including 11 children, were on the plane.

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