As was expected following a reduction in the charges against him earlier this week, former Alaska Airlines pilot Joseph Emerson has been released from custody pending both state and federal trials in Oregon.
Earlier this week, a grand jury in Portland declined to indict Joseph Emerson on attempted murder charges, opting instead to charge him with 83 counts of misdemeanor reckless endangerment, and one felony county of endangering an aircraft. According to Emerson and his attorney, he was experiencing the effects of a bad trip on mushrooms, after taking them for the first time 40 hours prior, when he attempted to pull two fuel-cutoff levers in the cockpit of a plane in which he was riding on the jump seat, while off-duty.
The Everett, WA-to-SFO flight diverted to Portland following the incident, after a pilot and first officer had to wrestle Emerson away from the equipment. And Emerson has since said that he believed he was in some sort of lucid nightmare and thought that bringing the plane down in his dream would make him "wake up."
In fact, Emerson had taken psilocybin for the first time while on a memorial getaway with friends, and he had been experiencing untreated depression for a couple of years, after the death of a close friend.
Emerson will now stand trial twice, once on the state charges, and also in federal court on one charge of interfering with a flight crew. Judges in both cases agreed Thursday to let Emerson go free on bail and return home to the Bay Area, pending trial. As the Associated Press reports, Emerson pleaded not guilty to all charges at his arraignments today.
Conditions of his release include that he can not ride on an airplane or come within 30 feet of one, and he must undergo mental health services, and stay away from drugs and alcohol.
As Emerson told the New York Times last month, he was "horrified" when he realized what he had actually done in real life, endangering the lives of 83 passengers and crew members.
"That crew got dealt a situation there’s no manual, checklist or procedure that’s been written for. And they did an exemplary job keeping me and the rest of the people on that plane safe," Emerson said.
"Is he criminally responsible? No. Does he need help? Yes," said Noah Horst, an attorney for Emerson, speaking to reporters today, per the AP. "Does Mr. Emerson deserve to be home today with his family and surrounded by his friends? Yes, he does."
Emerson's wife, Sarah Stretch, spoke to reporters tearfully outside the courtroom, as the AP reports, saying, "I'm saddened that this situation had to happen to my husband and to the people it affected. But I know that this has created a movement and momentum to help thousands of other pilots."
As the Times reported earlier, Emerson had been told by a therapist that he was likely depressed and should seek treatment, but he had declined to do so because any such treatment or medication would disqualify him from his work as a pilot, according to current employment rules.