Off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot faces 83 felonies, including attempted murder

An Alaska Air passenger jetliner on the runway at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas on April 4, 2016. File Photo from EPA/John. G. Mabanglo

Oct. 24 (UPI) -- The off-duty pilot who was arrested after allegedly attempting to seize control of an Alaska Airlines flight over the weekend was charged on Tuesday with multiple counts of attempted murder after authorities said he tried to shut down the plane's engines.

The airline says the off-duty pilot, identified as 44-year-old Joseph Emerson, was traveling in the jump seat when he attempted to shut down the engines by engaging the Engine Fire Handle, also known as the fire suppression system.

The airline says if the handle is fully deployed, a valve in the wing closes to shut off fuel to the engine. Typically, there are two handles for engines on both wings.

"In this case, the quick reaction of our crew to reset the T-handles ensured engine power was not lost," said Alaska Airlines in a statement. "Our crew responded without hesitation to a difficult and highly unusual situation, and we are incredibly proud and grateful for their skillful actions."

Citing the criminal complaint in the matter, ABC News reported that Emerson reportedly had not slept for more than 40 hours and also had mentioned the use of psychedelic mushrooms.

According to the report, he was in the jump seat while on his way to fly another plane when he allegedly acted and said he believed he was having a "nervous breakdown."

The twin-jet Embraer 175, en route from Everett, Wash., to San Francisco, was redirected to Portland, Ore., where it landed safely. The airline says passengers were able to board a different aircraft to continue their travels.

Emerson is facing a total of 83 felony charges, including attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment, and one count of endangering an aircraft.

The airline says Emerson began his career with Alaska Air Group as a Horizon First Officer in August 2001 and later transitioned to Virgin America as a pilot in June 2012.

Following Alaska's acquisition of Virgin America in 2016, Emerson assumed the role of an Alaska first officer and became a captain in 2019.

Alaska Airlines says that throughout his career with the company, Emerson was able to pass his FAA medical certifications and never encountered any issues regarding his certifications.

The event is being investigated by the FBI and the Port of Portland Police Department.

Emerson is expected to appear in court Tuesday afternoon.