'Had taken magic mushroom…not slept for…’ says off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who was charged with attempted murder
An off-duty pilot accused of attempting to shut down the engines of an Alaska Airlines jet while it was in flight informed authorities that he was experiencing a mental breakdown, had consumed ‘magic mushrooms’ two days prior, and had not slept for 40 hours, court documents showed on Tuesday as reported by Reuters.
Joseph David Emerson, 44, an Alaska Airlines pilot, was riding as a standby employee passenger in the cockpit "jump seat" of Sunday's flight from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco, when the airborne altercation occurred, authorities said.
Emerson ended up being restrained by cabin crew members after a brief altercation with the captain and first officer within the flight deck, and he was arrested in Portland, Oregon, where the flight had been diverted and safely landed.
On Tuesday, Emerson was charged in Oregon state court with 83 counts of attempted murder - one for every crew member and passenger on the plane besides himself - and a single count of endangering an aircraft.
He had pleaded not guilty to those charges through his attorney at a brief arraignment hearing on Tuesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland.
Emerson was charged in a separate federal criminal complaint with one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants.
The charging documents in both cases were filed with sworn affidavits from investigators outlining a harrowing sequence of events that came close to shutting down hydraulic operation and fuel to both engines of the twin-jet aircraft, an Embraer 175.
What did Emerson tell police after his arrest?
According to the affidavits as seen by Reuters, after his arrest, Emerson told police that he was suffering a mental crisis during the incident and had struggled with depression for the past six months.
The court documents also said he also told police that he had taken "magic mushrooms" for the first time which he had ingested 48 hours before boarding the flight.
On Tuesday, Alaska Air Group, the airline's parent company, in a statement said that at no time during the check-in or boarding process did employees observe any signs of impairment that would have led them to prevent Emerson from flying.
Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 was operated by the group's regional subsidiary Horizon Air, the company said.
Court documents also gave no indication of whether investigators had confirmed any drug or alcohol use by the suspect, though one of the arresting officers told investigators that Emerson did not appear "outwardly under the influence of intoxicants," as reported by Reuters.
What does medical research say on magic mushroom?
Psilocybin, a naturally occurring hallucinogen found in some types of mushrooms known as "magic mushrooms," has been demonstrated in medical studies to be helpful as a treatment for anxiety, depression, and other mental problems.
With the passage of a ballot initiative in 2020, Oregon had became the first US state to decriminalise and legalise the use of psilocybin for people over the age of 21 for supervised therapeutic purposes. Psilocybin, however, is still legally forbidden by federal law.
What happened in the Cockpit?
The two pilots who were at the controls of Flight 2059 told investigators, according to affidavits as reported by Reuters, that Emerson had started out chatting with them casually, before suddenly hurling his radio headset across the cockpit and saying, "I'm not OK."
At that point, he reached up and grabbed two red-colored fire-suppression handles, pulling them downward, an affidavit said.
One of the two pilots instantly grabbed Emerson's wrist to prevent him from fully activating the controls as the other yelled out "in-flight emergency," and then there was a scuffle before Emerson suddenly quieted down again and walked out of the cockpit.
The flight crew later told investigators that had Emerson managed to fully deploy the shut-off handles, the plane was "seconds away" from being turned into a glider.
In his interview with police, the affidavits said, Emerson acknowledged pulling the handles, saying he did so because he felt like he was trying to awaken from a dream.
After leaving the cockpit, he was escorted to the back of the plane, placed in a flight attendant's seat and was fitted with handcuffs, having warned the cabin crew: "You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad," according to affidavits as reported by Reuters.
According to court documents, Emerson also attempted to grab an emergency escape handle while being restrained, however, was stopped by a flight attendant by placing her hands over his and engaged him in conversation in order to divert him.
"I messed everything up," and that he had stated that he had "tried to kill everybody," another flight attendant cited in the affidavits was quoted as telling authorities she overheard Emerson say.