Suspect in Midflight Scare: 'I'm Not Right'

Psychotic breakdown may be behind incident with Alaska Airlines pilot
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 24, 2023 12:08 PM CDT
Before Midflight Scare, Suspect Said, 'I'm Not Right'
A worker cleans a jet bridge at Paine Field in Everett, Wash., before passengers board an Alaska Airlines flight in this 2019 file photo.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The investigation continues, but authorities at the moment don't think an alarming incident aboard an Alaska Airlines jet is related to terrorism, reports CNN. Instead, the suspect accused of trying to shut off the passenger plane's engines midflight is believed to have suffered some kind of mental breakdown. The man identified as Joseph Emerson, 44, said something along the lines of "I'm not right" just before the incident, per ABC News, citing a federal official. Emerson, an Alaska Airlines pilot, was sitting in the cockpit at the time, though he wasn't on duty. Instead, he was catching a ride to his next assignment.

A statement from the airline says Emerson tried to "shut down the engines by engaging the Engine Fire Handle, also known as the fire suppression system." If this handle is deployed, "a valve in the wing closes to shut off fuel to the engine." However, the crew was able to stop Emerson before that happened, says the airline. He was then subdued, apparently without incident, with one passenger telling KGO that she saw flight attendants walking the man past her to the back of plane. "I saw zip ties during, which was confusing because they had told us it was a medical emergency," says Aubrey Gavello.

After the plane made an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon, and police took Emerson from the plane, a flight attendant announced that he'd had a "mental breakdown" and needed to be removed immediately, says Gavello. Emerson has worked in the aviation field for at least 20 years, including as a pilot with Virgin America, per CNN. At "no point were his certifications denied, suspended, or revoked," says his current employer. "He looked dead in the eyes almost," Gavello tells KGO. "It was almost as if he had a psychotic breakdown." Flight 2059 had been operated by Horizon Air, which, like Alaska Airlines, is owned by Alaska Air Group. (More Alaska Airlines stories.)

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