An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot was arrested on Sunday night after attempting to shut off the engines during a flight.
Joseph D. Emerson, 44, told authorities he had been dehydrated and awake for over 40 hours after consuming psychedelic mushrooms about 48 hours before boarding. Emerson said he had been depressed for a long time, according to state and federal documents.
Emerson told police he thought he was suffering a “nervous breakdown” while being taken into custody, according to federal court documents.
What went down the day of the incident?
About two days pirior to Flight 2059 operated by Horizon Air, a regional subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, Emerson had taken psychedelic mushrooms. Emerson has been in the jump seat of the cockpit, which is normal for off-duty pilots to fly in when shuttling back and forth between work.
Court documents stated that at first, there was no sign of anything wrong with Emerson. He was acting normal, and talking to the pilots about the weather and different aircrafts. When the plane was over Oregon, one of the pilots saw Emerson throw his headset claiming he was not OK. Then, Emerson tried to grab red handles that cut off fuel to the engines, and there was a brief physical struggle for about 30 seconds with the captain and first officer before Emerson “quickly settled down” and was forced out of the cockpit, according to the New York Times.
Because “some residual fuel” remained in the line, “the quick reaction of our crew to reset the handles restored fuel flow and prevented fuel starvation,” according to a statement from Alaska Airlines. If Emerson was able to fully pull down on the handles it would have resulted in the hydraulics and fuel engines shutting down, essentially turning the plane into a glider within seconds, according to the complaint.
Emerson requested that he be handcuffed while walking to the back of the plane after leaving the cockpit. While restrained in zipties, a flight attendant had to stop him from grabbing the handle of an emergency exit door, according to federal prosecutors.
Another flight attendant heard Mr. Emerson “make statements such as, ‘I messed everything up’ and that ‘he tried to kill everybody,’” the complaint states.
The plane, which departed from Everett, Washington at 5:23 p.m. for San Francisco, was diverted to Portland International Airport, and landed safely around 6:30 p.m.
“I didn’t feel OK,” he told the police, according to the federal complaint. “It seemed like the pilots weren’t paying attention to what was going on.”
“I pulled both emergency shut off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up,” he also told the police, according to the complaint.
Police did not suspect Emerson to be under the influence while being questioned. Alaska Airlines said in a statement Tuesday that “neither the gate agents nor flight crew noticed any signs of impairment that might have barred him from the flight,” according to the Associated Press.
“There’s a potential for paranoia,” Juliana Mercer, a Marine Corps veteran in San Diego who has helped former service members to psycadelic therapies told the New York Times, “but not 48 hours post-consumption, unless there’s an underlying mental health condition.”
Emerson is said to have struggled with depression for about six years. Recently, a friend of his passed away as well.
The federal documents do not state the dosage of psychedelic mushrooms he ingested, but while he conversed with an officer about it, he claimed it was his first time taking them, according to the documents. It is unknown if he was drug tested.
Is lack of expertise to blame?
Emerson has been a pilot for over two decades. He has completed the required Federal Aviation Association medical certifications, and has never been denied, suspended, or revoked of certifictaion.
Pilots over 40 are required to have psychological screenings as part of their regular medical exams every six months. Emerson took his most recent exam in September, according to Federal Aviation Administration records, but the charging documents say he has had a struggle with depression for quite a while, as reported by the Associated Press.
"It's very scary to know that that person was allowed in the cockpit, in the jump seat, where he was sitting," Alex Wood, a passenger on the flight who had been sleeping, told NBC News.
According to an FBI affidavit, Emerson asked police if he could waive his right to an attorney, “I’m admitting to what I did. I’m not fighting any charges you want to bring against me, guys,” but in a court appearance on Tuesday, his lawyer, Noah Horst entered not-guilty pleas on his behalf.
In Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland, Oregon he was charged with 83 counts of attempted murder, one for each passanger on the plane, according to court records. Federal prosecutors charged Emerson with one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants. This can result in up to 20 years in prison.
Are psycodelics really this dangerous?
In recent years, psycodelics have been gaining medical and legal acceptance that has been backed by research suggesting it can help treat mental disorders like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Oregon was the first state to legalize the adult use of psilocybin mushrooms, which are illegal in most of the country. Voters in Colorado last year approved a measure to decriminalize them. In 2018, the Federal Drug Administration granted them “breakthrough therapy” status for research, allowing other states to utlize them.
"I wouldn't doubt that psilocybin mushrooms could have had residual effects even 48 hours after ingestion, especially if he took a large dose and was without any effective supervision, preparation, oversight or follow-up integration," Dr. Charles Grob, a psychedelic drug researcher and the director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Harbor–UCLA Medical Center, told NBC News.
Emerson is currently being held in an Oregon jail. As part of the investigation, there will be a review of his mental state. He has been relieved of all duties, according to Alaska Airlines.
Share This Post On
Leave a comment
You need to login to leave a comment. Log-in