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'He Had Tried To Kill Everybody': Passengers Sue Airlines After Pilot's Midflight Scare

A class-action lawsuit has been brought by passengers aboard the Alaska Airlines flight that saw an off-duty pilot allegedly try to shut down the engines after consuming psychedelic mushrooms.

The Oct. 22 flight from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco left the passengers suffering ongoing emotional distress, including nausea on later flights, insomnia, anxiety and flashbacks of the incident, according to the suit, which was filed Thursday in Washington’s King County Superior Court.

“The impacts on their willingness to fly at all and future flight experiences remain to be revealed,” it reads.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of passengers Matthew Dolan, Theresa Stelter and Paul Stephen, claims that the Alaska Airlines pilot, Joseph Emerson, should have undergone a preflight security screening before he was allowed inside the cockpit of the plane, even if only to ride in a jump seat. It names the airline and an affiliate that operated the flight, Horizon Air, as defendants.

A Horizon Air plane takes off at the Portland International Airport in Oregon in a file photo. Horizon Air is a regional carrier in the Alaska Air Group, which also owns Alaska Airlines.
A Horizon Air plane takes off at the Portland International Airport in Oregon in a file photo. Horizon Air is a regional carrier in the Alaska Air Group, which also owns Alaska Airlines.

A Horizon Air plane takes off at the Portland International Airport in Oregon in a file photo. Horizon Air is a regional carrier in the Alaska Air Group, which also owns Alaska Airlines.

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“Pilots who ride in a cockpit jump seat may be called upon in an emergency,” the lawsuit states. “Emerson not only told the flight crew while in the air that he was not in his right mind. He later admitted to a flight attendant that he had tried to kill everybody.”

Emerson — who has pleaded not guilty to 83 counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft, while also facing a federal charge of interfering with flight crew members and attendants — later told police that he was having a “nervous breakdown,” according to a federal complaint.

He said that he hadn’t slept in 40 hours, that he felt dehydrated, and that he had taken psychedelic mushrooms, the complaint adds. The hallucinogens were consumed about 48 hours earlier and were taken while battling depression, Emerson allegedly told police in Oregon following the plane’s emergency landing in Portland.

“The airlines need a wake-up call,” said aviation lawyer Daniel Laurence, whose Stritmatter Firm is representing the plaintiffs behind the new suit, in a statement. “We understand that most pilots are heroes every day for safely operating our airliners. But they are not immune from sleeplessness, drinking, drugs, or a mental health crisis.”

A representative for Alaska Airlines told HuffPost that the company is reviewing the lawsuit and is “incredibly proud and grateful” for how the crew handled the situation.

“The pilots and flight attendants operating Flight 2059 responded without hesitation to ensure the safety of all onboard,” the representative said.

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