Alaska Airlines pilot Joseph Emerson was arraigned in a Portland court on Thursday, and while he's essentially admitted to trying to interfere with a plane's engine amid an apparent mental breakdown, he has pleaded not guilty to 167 charges of attempted murder and reckless endangerment.
Thursday was the arraignment for Joseph David Emerson, the Alaska Airlines pilot who's accused of trying to cut power to a plane's engine while he was flying on the cockpit jump seat, while off-duty, on an SFO-bound flight from Washington on Sunday. Emerson, who has admitted to his actions in interviews with investigators, entered a plea of not guilty to 83 counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment, and one felony count of endangering an aircraft.
As the Associated Press reports from outside the courtroom Thursday, Emerson's wife spoke to reporters and expressed her complete shock, though she said she knew he had been experiencing some depression.
"This is not my Joe," said wife Sarah Stretch. "He never would've done that. He never would've knowingly done any of that. That is not the man that I married."
Neighbors and colleagues at a Bay Area flight training school have all expressed similar reactions, and characterized Emerson as extremely cautious, and a rule-follower.
But it sounds as though Emerson, who was also mourning the death of a friend, may have decided to try hallucinogens at a bad time, and was perhaps not used to their effects. He reportedly told FBI investigators that he had taken mushrooms for the first time about 48 hours before the incident, and that he had not slept in 40 hours.
He also reportedly said he thought he was in a dream when he was in the cockpit, and he went to pull levers that cut off fuel to the jet's engines because, he said, he wanted to "wake up."
After being kicked out of the flight deck, Emerson reportedly told a flight attendant "I am no OK," and instructed them to cuff him with zip ties "or it's gonna be bad." He then reportedly had be restrained further when he reached for the handle on an emergency door.
The plane successfully made an emergency landing in Portland, and Emerson was arrested there.
As we learned Tuesday, following a preliminary hearing in the case, Emerson reportedly wanted to waive his right to an attorney, and he told Portland police, "I'm admitting to what I did. I'm not fighting any charges you want to bring against me, guys."
A neighbor of Emerson's in Pleasant Hill, Karen Yee, tells NBC Bay Area that his actions after the struggle in the cockpit show some self-awareness. "He was lucid enough to realize that... things were going wrong in his head, and he could express himself and get people to take care of him, so that shows kind of what kind of person he really is."
Ethan Levi, who is serving as Emerson's defense attorney, told the court Thursday that Emerson did not have any suicidal or homicidal intent. And, per the AP, Levi added that Emerson wanted to thank the flight crew for their "timely and heroic actions."
In addition to the state charges Emerson faces in Oregon, he faces a federal charge as well of interfering with a flight crew, which alone can come with a 20-year sentence.