Officials have revealed that an off-duty pilot is facing multiple counts of attempted murder after an Alaska Airlines flight was forced to divert on Sunday when he tried to disrupt the plane’s engines.
AN OFF-DUTY pilot is facing multiple counts of attempted murder after an Alaska Airlines flight was forced to divert on Sunday when he tried to disrupt the plane’s engines, officials said on Monday.
The San Francisco-bound flight had departed Everett, Washington, but was diverted to Portland, Oregon. The off-duty pilot, identified by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office as Joseph Emerson, 44, was charged with 83 felony counts of attempted murder, 83 misdemeanour counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft. No injuries were reported.
According to an audio recording posted on LiveATC.net, a pilot told air traffic controllers: “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 issues in the back right now. I think he is subdued.”
Alaska Airlines said in a statement that Flight 2059 “reported a credible security threat” after Emerson “attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines.”
The FBI said the pilot safely landed the plane at Portland International Airport about 6.25pm Pacific time on Sunday. The flight was operated by Horizon Air, an Alaska Airlines regional subsidiary, and had 80 passengers and four crew members onboard.
“The FBI is investigating and can assure the travelling public there is no continuing threat related to this incident,” Kieran L Ramsey, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Portland division, said in a statement.
Emerson had been in the flight deck’s jump seat, typically reserved for employees of the Federal Aviation Administration or the airline. He is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday afternoon.
Airline officials said the flight’s captain and first officer responded quickly to the threat, engine power was not lost, and the crew secured the aircraft. Passengers boarded a later flight.
Emerson, of Pleasant Hill, California, about 30 miles east of San Francisco, received his most recent medical exam in September, according to an FAA database. Though Emerson is an experienced pilot, his most recent airline transport pilot’s certificate was issued in July, which experts say is required when a pilot is certified on a new aircraft. The FAA requires pilots to undergo a medical examination every six months to five years, depending on their age and type of flying they perform.
Messages left at a phone number associated with his address were not returned.
“This is highly unusual,” Robert Sumwalt, executive director of the Boeing Center for Aviation and Aerospace Safety at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and former National Transportation Safety Board chairman, said of the incident. “But pilots of the airplane were able to mitigate any damage the jump-seat rider may have caused.”
The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents pilots at Alaska and Horizon, said in a statement that “the airline pilot profession in North America is one of the most highly vetted and scrutinised careers,” adding that the United States has “pioneered a pro-active approach to improving aviation safety and maintaining a healthy work environment for pilots.”
The FAA said it is working with Alaska Airlines and Horizon while supporting the law enforcement investigation.
“We are grateful for the professional handling of this situation by the Horizon flight crew and appreciate our guests’ calm and patience throughout this event,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the FAA will focus on any safety considerations for the future that emerge from investigations into the incident. In a post on social media, he added: “I am grateful for the professional flight crew and air traffic controllers who stepped up to guide this plane safely to Portland.”
– THE WASHINGTON POST