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The Street
The Street
Rob Lenihan

Alaska Airlines pilot faces 83 counts of murder following bizarre incident

On a commercial flight, a Level 4 threat is the worst kind you can face.

It is defined as attempted or actual breech of the flight deck and officials said that's what happened onboard Alaska Flight 2059, when an off-duty pilot allegedly tried to shut down the engines mid-flight.

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The flight was diverted Sunday evening to Portland, Ore., after the off-duty pilot “unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines,” during a flight from Seattle Paine Field International Airport in Everett, Wash., to San Francisco, according to Alaska Air Group (ALK) -), the parent of both Horizon and Alaska Airlines.

'Going a little bit overboard'

Joseph D. Emerson, 44, was arrested without incident and charged with 83 counts of attempted murder, as well as charges of reckless endangerment and endangering an aircraft.

Emerson was reportedly riding in the jump seat, which is located in the plane’s cockpit, just behind the captain and first office. Airline pilots routinely commute in jump seats either on their own airline or another.

A spokeswoman for the Multnomah County, Ore., District Attorney’s office said Emerson might be arraigned as soon as Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 23, adding the office was working with federal authorities including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Horizon pilots told air-traffic controllers that the person had been subdued and put in the back of the plane, according to an audio recording of the communications.

“We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit, and he doesn’t sound like he’s causing any issue in the back right now,” the pilot said in the recording.

“It seems like he settled down after one moment of going a little bit overboard. We put him in the back,” a pilot said. 

Appears to be isolated

The threat “escalated to a four,” one of the Horizon pilots said in the recording of the exchange with air-traffic control. 

The Federal Aviation Administration urged carriers and flight crews to remain vigilant in a security message, and said the incident was “not connected in any way, shape or form to current world events.” 

Federal officials said the case appeared to be an isolated incident and unrelated to terrorism.

Kieran Ramsey, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Portland, said the bureau was investigating “and can assure the traveling public there is no continuing threat related to this incident.”

Alaska Air Group said all passengers on board were able to travel on a later flight and were given vouchers to fly later.

“We are grateful for the professional handling of the situation by the Horizon flight crew and appreciate our guests’ calm and patience throughout this event,” the airline said.

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