Joseph David Emerson, a 44-year-old off-duty pilot, has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder. The charges stem from an incident where Emerson allegedly tried to shut down the engines of an Embraer 175 plane in mid-air.
The plane, carrying 84 passengers, was forced to divert its course from San Francisco to Portland International Airport due to the unexpected cockpit struggle.
Emerson, who was not flying the plane, but was seated in the jump seat reserved for other pilots and crew members, is also facing an additional 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft.
Despite the severity of the charges, those who know Emerson personally expressed their disbelief and shock at the allegations.
Alaskan Airlines pilot Joseph Emerson is being held in an Oregon jail and booked on 167 charges, including 83 potential counts of attempted murder.
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) October 24, 2023
Neighbors in his Pleasant Hill, California community describe Emerson as a loving father, devoted husband, and an ideal neighbor. They were taken aback by the news, unable to reconcile the image of the man they knew with the serious charges he now faces.
Emerson, who lives with his wife, Sarah Stretch, and their two young sons, is known for his active involvement in his children’s lives and his friendly demeanor.
Aubrey Gavello, a passenger on the ill-fated flight, recounted the passengers were initially told the plane was diverting due to a ‘medical emergency’. It was only after landing that they were informed about the true nature of the incident.
According to Gavello, a flight attendant revealed over the speaker that Emerson suffered a mental breakdown, necessitating immediate landing and his removal from the plane.
This is the off-duty Alaskan Airline pilot catching a ride from WA>SanFrancisco, where he was to pilot a 737! SCARY! Staff on the plane subdued him. Seems this pilot passenger had a "mental breakdown" mid-flight. I ask where would the plane likely have crashed? An urban center? pic.twitter.com/UyyMroNDJ8
— WNCadventurer (@WNCadventurer) October 23, 2023
The incident left many questioning how such a situation could arise, especially given Emerson’s reputation as a dedicated family man and professional. His neighbors, still reeling from the news, continue to express their support for him, unable to reconcile the charges with the man they know.
The incident also raised questions about mental health support and monitoring within the aviation industry. It underscores the need for robust systems to ensure the well-being of those entrusted with the lives of passengers.
While the charges against Emerson are grave, the incident highlighted critical issues. As the legal proceedings continue, the community, still in shock, hopes for a fair and just resolution.