The Pilot Who Tried to Bring Down Alaska Airlines Plane With 83 People on Board Is Now Free

A lot has happened since October, when off-duty pilot Joesph Emerson took magic mushrooms and then bummed a ride in the cockpit of an Alaska Airlines flight in Everett, Wash. As the plane was over the Portland, Ore., area, the 44-year-old attempted to bring down the plane filled with 83 people. Now he’s at home in California and out on bail.


Before he nearly crashed the plane, he told the other pilots, “I am not OK.”

 The New York Times reported:

Mr. Emerson suddenly reached up and yanked the plane’s two fire-suppression handles — designed to cut the fuel supply and shut down both engines. The pilots snatched his wrists, wrestling his hands away in a frantic attempt to avert disaster. They radioed that the flight needed to make an emergency diversion to Portland.

“[…] I thought it would stop both engines, the plane would start to head towards a crash, and I would wake up…”

The freaked-out passengers had to be rerouted after an emergency landing in Portland, their lives never again the same after realizing they’d escaped death.

Emerson’s bizarre behavior continued while he was locked up at the Portland International Airport, according to the Times.

Held in a detention room at the airport, he recalls stripping naked, trying to jump out a window, urinating on himself and trying to make himself ejaculate — all in hopes of waking up.

At one point, he was given a chance to call a lawyer and instead phoned his wife. She said it was clear from the call that he was not himself. At times he was mumbling and asking, “Is this real?” Then, suddenly, he was singing Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”

The Pleasanton, Calif., resident spent the next two and half months behind bars at the Portland jail on what the public was told was going to be attempted murder charges. The case by the District Attorney’s office to a Portland grand jury resulted in 83 counts of reckless endangerment, not attempted murder. 

Emerson put up ten percent of the $50 thousand bail and is now back home in California, awaiting trial.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Ryan made the decision to release him as Emerson pleaded not guilty to 83 reduced charges of reckless endangerment; he previously faced 83 attempted murder charges.

Emerson, of Pleasant Hill, has also pleaded not guilty to a federal charge of interfering with a flight crew, and the judge in that case also agreed that he could be released pending trial.


Judge Ryan once sent a reporter to jail for pulling a gun to defend himself against a band of Portland Antifa thugs, though not a shot was fired. 

One reporter asked Emerson, as he hugged his family, grateful to be getting out of the slammer, “Joe, what do you have to say to the 83 people who were on that flight?” 


Emerson says he took the mushrooms with friends days before as they gathered to remember a friend who died. Emerson was overcome with grief over his friend’s passing, but he had other childhood demons that came back to haunt him in his adult years, according to the Times. He was under a therapist’s care before his breakdown but would not seek out drugs to help him cope, afraid that he would be grounded.

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Emerson also faces federal charges. The judge in that case also said he could be free while awaiting trial. 

“I’m so happy, my boys are going to be so happy to have their dad home! It’s been a long time and I’m just glad this is happening. He deserves to be home right now,” Sarah Stretch, Emerson’s wife, told the AP.

As conditions of release, prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed Emerson would stay away from all drugs and alcohol, get mental health care, and keep at least 30 feet away from an operable plane. 

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