Off-duty pilot tried to shut off engine mid-flight

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An off-duty pilot attempted to shut down the engines of a Horizon Airlines flight on Sunday night and was charged with 83 counts of attempted murder after the flight was diverted and landed without incident.

Joseph David Emerson, an Alaska Airlines pilot from California, was arrested by Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Portland, Ore., after Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 from Everett, Wash., to San Francisco was diverted to Portland International Airport. In a statement, Alaska Airlines said there was “a credible security threat related to an authorized occupant in the flight deck jump seat” and that the flight crew eventually secured the aircraft.

Horizon is a regional airline that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Alaska Airlines.

Emerson was charged with 83 counts of attempted murder and 83 counts of reckless endangerment, along with endangering an aircraft.

“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,” a pilot told air traffic controllers, according to publicly available audio recorded by Live ATC. “We want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked.”

In a statement to commercial airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration said the incident “is not connected in any way shape or form to current world events.”

Off-duty pilots are often able to commute between airports while sitting in the cockpit jump seat and are cleared to sit in the secure area. Alaska confirmed that the threat was related to “an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who was traveling in the flight deck jump seat.”

“The jump seat occupant unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines,” the airline said. “The Horizon Captain and First Officer quickly responded, engine power was not lost and the crew secured the aircraft without incident.”

Alaska said all passengers on board were able to travel on a later flight. The airline said the FBI and Portland Police Department are investigating.

“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,” the airline said in a statement.

Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.

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