A grand jury indicted Joseph David Emerson, 44, on 83 counts of reckless endangering another person on Tuesday, dropping the 83 charges of attempted murder, after police say the off-duty pilot tried to turn off an aircraft’s engines while it was in the air on Oct. 22.
On Wednesday, a federal judge approved his release after being charged with Interfering with Flight Crew Members and Attendants.
He is still facing 83 state charges tied to the case. He’s still in jail and is expected to be arraigned on those state charges Wednesday.
His lawyers said he could be out of jail by the end of the week.
On Oct. 22, police say Emerson was flying as an off-duty pilot aboard Horizon Air Flight 2059, from Paine Field in Everett. The plane landed at Portland International Airport on an emergency diversion.
Charging documents detail how Emerson told police he was having a “nervous breakdown,” and had not slept in 40 hours. Although he denied taking any medication, he had mentioned that “it was his first time taking mushrooms.” Documents further lay out that he said he had taken mushrooms roughly 48 hours before his flight. Generally, the effects are known to wear off after between three and six hours.
“I pulled both emergency shut off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up,” he told police.
After being taken into custody, he waived his right to an attorney and stated that he was “not fighting any charges” brought against him.
“I’m admitting to what I did,” he said.
The Horizon Air passenger jet was initially headed for San Francisco before it was met by police after diverting to Portland on Sunday.
In audio captured by LiveATC.com, one of the plane’s pilots told air traffic controllers that Emerson had been taken out of the cockpit.
No weapons were involved in the incident.
We talked to Paul Stephen from Seattle who said he was sitting in the third row of the flight and saw Emerson walking back and forth on the plane by himself. But he told us no one on the plane knew exactly what was happening until after the flight.
“To be clear, none of us knew it was an off-duty pilot, we were notified there was a quote un-quote medical emergency, and there had to be an emergency landing. We weren’t told where or when. Or how long it was going to take. We were notified by a nervous flight attendant. And the plane immediately started losing altitude going down to our destination,” said Stephen.
A statement released Monday from Alaska Airlines, which owns Horizon, said:
“On Oct. 22, Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 operated by Horizon Air from Everett, WA (PAE) to San Francisco, CA (SFO) reported a credible security threat related to an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who was traveling in the flight deck jump seat. The jump seat occupant unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines. The Horizon Captain and First Officer quickly responded, engine power was not lost and the crew secured the aircraft without incident.
“Following appropriate FAA procedures and guidance from Air Traffic Control, the flight was safely diverted to Portland International Airport. The jump seat occupant is currently in custody and the event is being investigated by law enforcement authorities, which includes the FBI and the Port of Portland Police Department.
“All passengers on board were able to travel on a later flight. We are grateful for the professional handling of the situation by the Horizon flight crew and appreciate our guests’ calm and patience throughout this event.”
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg issued a statement of his own late Monday morning, stating that he is “grateful for the professional flight crew and air traffic controllers who stepped up to guide this plane safely to Portland.
“FAA supports law enforcement in their response and will be focused on any safety considerations for the future that emerge from investigations,” he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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