Passengers sue Alaska Airlines after off-duty pilot tried to down plane

Passengers on the Alaska Airlines flight that an off-duty pilot tried to down by shutting off the aircraft’s engines have sued the company.

The class action suit, filed in Washington’s King County Superior Court, claims that three passengers have suffered emotional distress including “nausea on later flights, insomnia, anxiety, and flashbacks of the incident”.

Matthew Dolan, Theresa Stelter and Paul Stephen were all passengers on Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco on 22 October.

During the flight, which was operated by Horizon Air, Joseph Emerson, an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot, was permitted to travel in the cockpit’s jump seat.

The suit states that during the flight Mr Emerson took off his earphones and told the pilot that he was “not okay”.

He then “tried to crash the aircraft by activating the fire suppression system to shut down the fuel to the engines”.

Court documents state that the pilots and Mr Emerson “then wrestled for seconds over control of the aircraft”, before he left the flight deck and the plane was diverted to Portland, Oregon.

Joseph David Emerson, left, 44, is arraigned in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Oct. 24, 2023, in Portland, Oregon (The Oregonian)
Joseph David Emerson, left, 44, is arraigned in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Oct. 24, 2023, in Portland, Oregon (The Oregonian)

Mr Emerson then tried to open an emergency exit at the rear of the plane but was stopped by a flight attendant.

He claimed to have taken psychedelic mushrooms prior to the incident and not slept for 40 hours. He was arrested when the plane touched down in Portland.

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.

“The airlines need a wake-up call. We understand that most pilots are heroes every day for safely operating our airliners. But they are not immune from sleeplessness, drinking, drugs, or a mental health crisis,” said Daniel Laurence, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, in a statement.

“Our clients suffered needlessly as a result. Only luck prevented it from becoming a mass disaster.”

Alaska Airlines told The Independent in a statement that it was “reviewing” the lawsuit.

“The pilots and flight attendants operating Flight 2059 responded without hesitation to ensure the safety of all onboard. We are incredibly proud and grateful for their skilled actions,” a company spokesperson stated.