MONDAY MAR 04, 2024
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Off-Duty Pilot Attempts to Crash Alaska Airlines Plane

Off-Duty Pilot Attempts to Crash Alaska Airlines Plane


An Alaska Airlines flight was forced to divert early Sunday evening after an off-duty airline pilot allegedly attempted to try and crash the plane by turning off the aircraft's engines.


Photo: Seth Johnson | AeroXplorer


The aircraft involved in the incident, a SkyWest Embraer E175 operating for Alaska Airlines (N660QX), was operating flight 2059 between Everett (PAE) Washington and San Francisco (SFO) in California. In the cockpit of flight 2059 were the two pilots of the aircraft and another off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot, later identified as Joseph David Emerson, who was riding in the cockpit's jump seat. According to Alaska Airlines, Mr. Emerson "...unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines..."




According to preliminary information obtained by investigators, Mr. Emerson attempted to shut down the E175 engines by pulling the fire extinguisher handles on the overhead panel in the cockpit. Just before Emerson was about to do this, the captain and first officer wrestled the man away from the controls in the cockpit and kicked him out.


Photo: Michael Szczesniak | AeroXplorer


According to air traffic control recordings from the incident, one of the pilots can be heard telling air traffic control, “...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...I think he's subdued...”


Immediately following this, flight 2059 began its diversion to Portland Int'l Airport, an Alaska Airlines hub. Upon the aircraft's landing and parking on an airport stand, Mr. Emerson was detained by police and airport security and removed from the flight. Shortly after this, the E175 continued at 19:18, arriving in San Francisco three hours late at 22:18 local time.


Photo: Dalton Hoch | AeroXplorer


"...All passengers onboard were able to travel on a later flight...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..." stated Alaska Airlines in a statement regarding the event.




The incident will be under investigation by the Port of Portland Police Department and FBI, with the FBI stating that it "...can assure the traveling public there is no continuing threat related to this incident..." Joseph David Emerson is facing 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft, which is a federal offense.


Photo: Jacob Smith | AeroXplorer


Alaska Airlines and law enforcement agencies have reassured passengers that what happened on Sunday has no connection to events worldwide (Israel-Hamas, Russia-Ukraine conflicts).


When pulled, an aircraft engine fire extinguisher handle causes the fuel flow to shut off to the engine and release a fire retardant material. When an aircraft is not in an emergency, pulling the fire extinguisher handles can be catastrophic, as the plane will lose partial or all thrust, forcing an emergency landing.  


Photo: Jared Jamel | AeroXplorer

This incident highlights the importance of mental health in the aviation industry. The topic of mental health and mental illness in the aviation industry is one of the major taboos. Many pilots mask mental issues and disorders out of fear of losing their jobs because if they tell their healthcare providers and doctors during health screenings, they will lose their medical certificates for airworthiness. This ongoing and complicated issue needs to be resolved between healthcare providers, airlines, and pilots alike.



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Adam Schupak
Hey there! I'm Adam, a passionate avgeek absolutely obsessed with everything that flies. I'm a student glider pilot, but have the ultimate ambition of become a commercial airline pilot. Besides aviation, I'm also passionate about urban design, civil engineering, and trains.

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