PORTLAND, OR – An off-duty pilot is facing 83 counts of attempted murder after allegedly attempting to tamper with an Alaska Airlines flight’s engines by deploying the fire extinguisher handles, according to authorities. The incident occurred on a flight originally bound from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco but was diverted to Portland due to a “credible security threat related to an authorized occupant in the flight deck jump seat,” as confirmed by the airline.
Preliminary information gathered during the investigation suggests that the suspect attempted to pull the fire extinguisher handles on the engines, as reported by a federal official familiar with the case. However, the flight crew managed to subdue the suspect, who was then handcuffed to a seat.
The suspect, identified as Joseph David Emerson, was taken into custody by the Port of Portland. Emerson faces a total of 83 counts of attempted murder, along with 83 counts of reckless endangerment, classified as a misdemeanor, and one felony count of endangering an aircraft.
Emerson, who was en route to San Francisco, where he was supposed to join the flight crew of a 737, was seated in the flight deck jump seat, located in the cockpit. Alaska Airlines revealed that he “unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines.” Fortunately, the captain and first officer swiftly responded, ensuring that engine power remained intact, and the aircraft was secured without further incident.
The flight carried 80 passengers and four crew members, according to Alaska Airlines. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) emphasized that this incident had no connection to current global events in a statement to carriers.
The case is currently under investigation, with the FBI confirming its involvement and reassuring the public that there is no ongoing threat related to the incident. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg expressed gratitude for the professional response of the flight crew and air traffic controllers, emphasizing FAA’s support for law enforcement efforts and any safety considerations that may arise from the investigation.