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East Bay pilot accused of in-flight incident due in court on attempted murder charges

An Alaska Airlines pilot from the East Bay was due in court Tuesday, facing 83 counts of attempted murder after an in-flight incident on a Horizon Air passenger jet Sunday.

Joseph Emerson, 44, of Pleasant Hill, was off duty, riding in an extra seat in the cockpit of a Horizon Air jet flying from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco when he tried to shut down the jet’s engines, authorities say. The plane’s two pilots had to subdue Emerson, and the flight was diverted to Portland, Oregon, where port officers took him into custody.

The plane, a Horizon Air Embraer 175, was carrying 80 passengers and four crew members.

Emerson is being held on 83 counts each of attempted murder and reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft, according to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. He was set to face a judge in a Portland courtroom for arraignment Tuesday.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, which owns Horizon, a regional carrier, did not name Emerson, but said Monday that the threat was posed by one of its pilots who was off duty and authorized to occupy the cockpit jump seat.

The Federal Aviation Administration, in an alert to airlines, said a jump seat passenger tried to disable the engines by deploying the engine fire-suppression system.

“They have what they call fire handles, T handles, on the roof of the cockpit that you grab, turn and you shut down,” said Jeff Guzzetti, NBC News aviation analyst. “And that actually shuts the fuel off as well as turning the engine off. So it’s used for an emergency situation as if you have an engine fire or something along those lines; it’s a very quick way of shutting down the engines. And this jump seat rider may have tried to use those emergency T handles to do that.”

The FAA said it was helping law enforcement investigations. The FBI office in Portland also is assisting with the investigation.

Airlines use the third seat to accommodate pilots who need to get in position to fly a later flight, avoiding the need to bump a passenger off the plane. Many U.S. carriers will let pilots from other airlines occupy the third seat, at least on domestic flights.

Pilots over age 40 undergo medical evaluations every six months and diclose mental health issues and medications, according to the FAA. But full mental evaluations are not part of the physical.

Emerson’s last physical was last month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Source: NBC Bay Area

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