An American pilot suffered a meltdown during a domestic flight and tried to sabotage the aircraft’s engine midflight to crash the plane filled with passengers.
44-year-old Alaska Airlines pilot Joseph David Emerson, who was off-duty at the time, has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder.
According to local officials and witnesses, Emerson attempted to crash the plane during a mid-flight “mental breakdown.”
The incident occurred during a recent flight from Everett, Washington to San Francisco, California.
During the “breakdown,” Emerson tried to engage the jet’s fire-suppression system.
Engaging the system would have halted the flow of fuel to the craft’s engines and likely caused a catastrophic crash.
“The jump-seat occupant unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines,” an Alaska Airlines spokesperson told the New York Post.
Emerson was the “jump-seat occupant” referred to by the airline.
“The crew secured the aircraft without incident.”
The spokesperson explained that while the fire-suppression mechanism was briefly engaged, some residual fuel typically remains in the line.
“The quick reaction of our crew to reset the handles restored fuel flow and prevented fuel starvation,” the spokesperson added.
Passenger Aubrey Gavello witnessed the incident as it unfolded.
According to Gavello, the airline crew had informed other travelers of a medical emergency in the cockpit.
They then diverted the flight to land safely in Portland, Oregon.
“The flight attendant got back on the speaker and said, plain and simple, ‘He had a mental breakdown. We needed to get him off the plane immediately,’” Gavello told ABC News.
Emerson was eventually subdued by crew members and nobody was injured in the scare.
He now faces a long list of serious criminal charges, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office confirmed to the Post.
The charges include 83 counts of attempted murder in the first degree, 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person, and one count of endangering an aircraft in the first degree.
The pilot is now the subject of a federal investigation.
Former FBI intelligence officer Joshua Skule told CBS News that agents would “unpack this person’s life,” and “go through his social media, all of his computers, his phones.”
An unnamed source familiar with the investigation told the Post that Emerson was likely not motivated by ideology, however.
They suggested the incident was linked to a mental health episode.