‘Mushrooms’ pilot to remain in jail after ‘trying to kill plane engines’

An off-duty pilot charged with 83 counts of attempted murder after allegedly trying to shut off a jetliner’s engines and down the aircraft, will remain in jail ahead of trial.

Joseph David Emerson, who claimed to have taken psychedelic mushrooms prior to the incident, waived his right to a preventative detention hearing at an Oregon court on Wednesday, his lawyer said. Mr Emerson was not present at the hearing.

The 44-year-old was arrested after the plane, flying from Seattle to San Francisco on Sunday, landed safely in Portland, Oregon, according to the local prosecutor’s office.

A preventive detention hearing, similar to a bail hearing, involves the judge in a criminal trial hearing arguments for and against detaining a defendant in jail pending the trial.

At the brief hearing on Wednesday, Mr Emerson’s lawyer indicated that the delay to the hearing was likely to extend past 30 days, requiring a signed waiver from the former pilot. The lawyer said he had not been able to get into the jail to speak to Mr Emerson, following his appearance in court on Tuesday.

Mr Emerson faces a total of 167 state charges – 83 counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft. He has pleaded not guilty to all of them.

He is also charged with one federal count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants.

Joseph Emerson appeared in court on Tuesday (via REUTERS)
Joseph Emerson appeared in court on Tuesday (via REUTERS)

During the incident on Sunday, authorities said Mr Emerson was travelling in the flight deck jump seat in the cockpit when he suddenly tried to shut down both of the plane’s engines by pulling the fire extinguisher handles.

He was then subdued by the flight crew as the captain and first officer intervened to keep the engines running. Mr Emerson was escorted by a flight attendant to the rear of the aircraft where he was placed in wrist restraints and belted into the aft jump seat.

Mr Emerson is charged with 83 counts of attempted murder (Joseph Emerson/Facebook/iStock)
Mr Emerson is charged with 83 counts of attempted murder (Joseph Emerson/Facebook/iStock)

According to Alaska Airlines, Mr Emerson also attempted to grab the handle of the emergency exit during the aircraft’s descent before being stopped by a flight attendant.

The flight was diverted to Portland, Oregon, due to the “credible threat” posed by Mr Emerson. His exact motive for his actions remains unclear, though authorities do not believe the incident was an act of terrorism or ideologically motivated violence, CNN reported.

According to a federal affidavit seen by The Independent, Mr Emerson told police that he had suffered a “nervous breakdown” and had been taking psychedelic mushrooms.

Mr Emerson explained to the officers: “I didn’t feel okay. It seemed like the pilots weren’t paying attention to what was going on. They didn’t… it didn’t seem right.”