Off-duty pilot accused of attempting to shut off plane engines mid-flight indicted on 84 counts

Dec 5, 2023, 9:00 PM | Updated: Dec 15, 2023, 5:25 pm

Image of an Alaska Air flight taking off from Los Angeles International Airport. The FAA convened a...

The FAA convened a committee that could suggest changes to pilot mental health rules after an Alaska Airlines pilot's alleged attempt to shut off engines mid-flight in October. (Ric Tapia/TAPIR/AP via CNN)

(Ric Tapia/TAPIR/AP via CNN)

(CNN) — Joseph Emerson, the Alaska Airlines pilot who allegedly attempted to shut off the engines of a passenger plane mid-flight in October, was indicted on 84 counts in an Oregon court Tuesday.

The grand jury indicted Emerson on one count of endangering aircraft in the first degree and 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person -– one for each person aboard the aircraft at the time of the October 22 incident.

Emerson’s attorneys applauded the grand jury’s decision not to charge him with 83 counts of attempted murder.

“The attempted murder charges were never appropriate in this case because Captain Emerson never intended to hurt another person or put anyone at risk – he just wanted to return home to his wife and children,” his attorneys wrote in a statement.

But the defense team also was disappointed to learn he had been charged at all because he had “no criminal intent,” according to the statement.

“Captain Emerson thought he was in a dream; his actions were taken in a single-minded effort to wake up from that dream and return home to his family,” his attorneys said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, Liz Merah, described the grand jury process in a statement, saying the deputy district attorneys handling the case included attempted murder charges, then presented the evidence and called witnesses.

“From the outcome, one could infer that the jurors found that Emerson acted not with intent to murder, but that he recklessly endangered the lives of the people on that plane.”

According to an affidavit filed by prosecutors, Emerson told investigators he “had consumed ‘magic mushrooms’ approximately 48 hours prior” to the incident.

He took the mushrooms during a weekend getaway in Washington to commemorate the death of his best friend, he told the New York Times in a story published in November. During the incident, he said he thought he was dreaming while commuting back to California in the cockpit jump seat of a Horizon Air flight.

The flight was diverted to Portland, Oregon.

Emerson is set to be arraigned December 7.

He also faces similar federal charges.

CNN’s Pete Muntean contributed to this report.

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Off-duty pilot accused of attempting to shut off plane engines mid-flight indicted on 84 counts