Pilot who tried to cut engines midflight said used psychedelic mushrooms

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — The off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot accused of attempting to shut down the engines on a plane midflight also allegedly attempted to open an emergency door after he was removed from the cockpit. He warned flight attendants at one point that they should handcuff him, and later said that he had taken psychedelic mushrooms, according to a federal affidavit filed Tuesday.

When police interviewed 44-year-old Joseph Emerson after the plane was diverted to Portland on Sunday, he told them he thought he was having a “nervous breakdown” and had not slept in 40 hours. He denied taking any medication, according to the affidavit, but told police he became depressed six months ago and talked to an officer about the use of psychedelic mushrooms, stating that it was his first time taking mushrooms.

“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,” Emerson told police, according to the affidavit. He later added “I pulled both emergency shut off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up.”

It’s unclear whether Emerson was actively under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms during the flight; the affidavit does not mention any evidence one way or the other beyond Emerson’s own comments to police.

Alaska Airlines said Emerson had been riding in the cockpit jumpseat on a flight from Everett to San Francisco Sunday when he attempted to activate the fire suppression systems in both engines, which would have caused them to shut down. The plane’s two pilots prevented him from doing so, and he was subdued and removed from the cockpit. Emerson was arrested after the flight landed at Portland International Airport.

RELATED: Off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot charged after trying to stop plane engines midflight; flight diverted to PDX

According to a probable cause affidavit written by an FBI special agent based on interviews with the two on-duty pilots, Emerson gave no initial indication that anything was wrong during the first half of the flight, and engaged the two in casual conversation about types of aircraft and the weather.

When the plane was about halfway between Astoria and Portland, Emerson said “I’m not okay,” and one of the pilots saw him throw his headset across the cockpit, then reach up and pull the two red handles that would activate the fire suppression system.

One of the pilots grabbed his wrist, while the other declared an in-flight emergency. Emerson resisted, wrestled with one of the pilots for about 30 seconds, then “quickly settled down,” according to the affidavit.

The pilots asked Emerson to leave the cockpit and he agreed. The pilots then changed course to Portland.

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Taylar Ansures is a producer and reporter for NBC5 News. Taylar is from Redding, California and went to California State University, Chico. After graduating, she joined KRCR News Channel 7 in Redding as a morning producer. She moved to Southern Oregon in 2022 to be closer to family and became KTVL News 10’s digital producer. Taylar is currently finishing her Master's Degree in Professional Creative Writing through the University of Denver. In her free time, Taylar frequents independent bookstores and explores hiking trails across Southern Oregon and Northern California.
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