An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot said he was having a “nervous breakdown” and had consumed psychedelic mushrooms before attempting to kill the engines of a passenger jet mid-flight on Sunday, according to a newly filed federal complaint.
“I am not OK,” two Horizon Air pilots said they heard Joseph David Emerson, 44, say before he allegedly reached up to pull emergency handles that would shut off fuel to the airliner’s engines as it flew from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco, the complaint released Tuesday states.
The complaint accuses Emerson, of the San Francisco area, with interfering with flight crew members and attendants. Emerson also faces state charges in Oregon: 83 counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft.
Emerson pleaded not guilty to the state charges on Tuesday.
One of the pilots of the Horizon Air plane, which is owned by the Alaska Air Group, declared an in-flight emergency as the other pilot grabbed Emerson, who was riding in a cockpit jump seat, preventing him from completely activating the aircraft’s fire suppression system with the handles, according to the federal complaint.
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.
If the handles were pulled down entirely, the aircraft would have turned “into a glider within seconds,” an FBI agent wrote in the complaint, citing an interview with the two pilots, who described Emerson as initially appearing calm while seated with them.
Emerson was ordered out of the cockpit by the pilots and was seen “peacefully walking” to the back of the aircraft, where he requested that flight attendants restrain him, according to the complaint.
“You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad,” he allegedly told a flight attendant.
Emerson was given a seat at the back of the plane and placed in flex handcuffs. As the plane descended for an emergency stop in Portland, Oregon, he was allegedly seen trying to grab the emergency exit door’s handle but was stopped by a flight attendant.
The complaint says flight attendants heard him saying that “I messed everything up” and that he “tried to kill everybody.”
I pulled both emergency shut-off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up.Off-duty pilot's comments, according to a federal complaint
Emerson told a responding police officer in Portland that he was having a “nervous breakdown” and that he had not slept in 40 hours. He said he felt dehydrated, tired and unwell, the federal complaint states.
“I didn’t feel okay. It seemed like the pilots weren’t paying attention to what was going on. They didn’t ... it didn’t seem right,” he said, according to the complaint. “I pulled both emergency shut-off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up.”
He allegedly said he had not taken any medication but did say that he had taken psychedelic mushrooms.
These were consumed about 48 hours earlier, he allegedly told Port of Portland police following his arrest, according to a probable cause statement filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court and obtained by The Associated Press. The use followed a friend dying, and him struggling with depression, he said.
Oregon in 2020 became the first U.S. state to legalize the supervised use of psilocybin, which is the psychedelic active ingredient found in several species of mushrooms. It can cause hours of hallucinations.
Emerson “said it was his first time taking mushrooms,” the complaint states.
It’s not clear whether a drug test was administered to him. A public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon told HuffPost that the matter remains under investigation.
Authorities with the Port of Portland told HuffPost they are consulting with the district attorney’s office on what details can be made public at this time.
Emerson’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.