Alaska Airlines Pilot Faces Charges for Engine Shutdown Attempt Mid-Flight

An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot, Joseph David Emerson, who was accused of attempting to shut off the engines during a flight in October, has been indicted by a grand jury in Oregon on 84 charges.

Multnomah County, Ore., District Attorney Mike Schmidt announced on Tuesday that the grand jury decided to indict Emerson on 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person and one count of endangering an aircraft in the first degree. Emerson is alleged to have tried to manipulate two handles that control fuel flow to the engines during an Oct. 22 Horizon flight.

The jury chose not to indict Emerson on the 83 counts of attempted murder, which were the initial charges when he was booked at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in October. Emerson pleaded not guilty to the initial charges in October, as reported by ABC News.

Emerson’s legal team from LMH Legal Group argued that the attempted murder charges were never appropriate because Emerson had no intention of harming others or putting anyone at risk. In a statement to The Hill, LMH Legal Group explained that Captain Emerson believed he was in a dream and acted with the singular purpose of waking up and returning to his family.

Despite their disappointment with the indictment, Emerson’s lawyers stressed that a grand jury only needs to find “probable cause” to indict a suspect. Emerson is currently held at the Multnomah County Detention Center in Portland, Ore., and is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday morning.

Prosecutors claim that Emerson, authorized to ride in the cockpit’s jump seat, was conversing with the captain and first officer during the Oct. 22 flight when he declared, “I’m not OK,” and attempted to manipulate two handles that control the plane’s fire suppression system and fuel flow.

A struggle ensued between Emerson and the pilots, resulting in an in-flight emergency declaration. After the situation calmed, Emerson left the cockpit. The plane, originally en route to San Diego from Everett, Wash., was diverted and landed in Portland.

Upon landing, Emerson informed responding officers that he believed he was experiencing a “nervous breakdown,” hadn’t slept in 40 hours, and had taken psilocybin (found in psychedelic mushrooms) about 48 hours prior. Emerson waived his right to an attorney, admitting to his actions and expressing a lack of resistance to any charges authorities wanted to bring against him.

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