The Alaska Airlines pilot currently in custody in Portland over a Sunday evening incident — in which he allegedly tried to shut down a plane's engines while off-duty and riding in the cockpit — is being described by neighbors as "normal" and a "family man."
The Chronicle tracked the accused pilot, identified as 44-year-old Joseph D. Emerson, to a home in Pleasant Hill, where Halloween decorations were up outside and where there was no answer at the door. Neighbors told Chronicle reporters that Emerson is a "family man" with two kids, for whom he'd built a basketball court in his backyard.
Neighbor Karen Yee tells the paper "It’s very shocking," and another neighbor described Emerson as "a completely by-the-book, normal guy."
That same neighbor admitted he hadn't seen Emerson in a few years, and said, "I don’t know what’s going on in his life."
Yee told reporters, "It's very hard for us to believe that he would do anything intentionally like that. I can't fathom him doing anything that would hurt anyone."
Emerson is in police custody after the incident that occurred in the cockpit of an Alaska Airlines jet that took off at 5:23 Sunday evening, bound from Everett, Washington to SFO. The Embraer jet was being operated by Alaska subsidiary Horizon Airlines.
The pilot and first officer said they had to subdue Emerson after he attempted to cut the engines of the plane, apparently in an effort to bring it down.
Emerson had been traveling on the jump seat in the cockpit — something that is common for off-duty pilots who may be commuting to or from work.
The pilot was heard on air-traffic radio telling an air traffic controller "we got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit."
The pilot added that after being taken to the back of the plane, he was subdued and "he doesn’t sound like he’s causing issues." Nonetheless the plane diverted to Portland, and law enforcement was asked to meet the plane at the gate.
Passengers on the plane, who were all reboarded on another flight to SFO, were reportedly told that Emerson suffered a "mental breakdown" before he tried to interfere with the plane's engines, per the Daily Mail.
Emerson now faces 83 counts of attempted murder, in addition to 83 counts of reckless endangerment, and one felony count of endangering an aircraft.
As the Chronicle reports, the FBI, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office are all investigating the incident.
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