Crew Foils Off-Duty Pilot’s Midair Engine Shutoff Attempt

( – A harrowing and potentially deadly situation happened aboard an Alaskan Airlines flight when a pilot inexplicably tried to shut the engines down mid-flight. Joseph Emerson was not the pilot of the craft but was along for the ride in the cockpit’s jump seat. Emerson tried to engage the fire suppression system which would have shut the airplane’s engines off. The airplane’s pilots acted quickly and were able to reverse the engagement and prevent any danger.

The fire suppression system is designed to be difficult to employ as to avoid any accidental engagement. Each engine has its own shut off switch that requires the pilot to grab hold of a lever, push it down to disengage its safety button, and then pull the lever up. Once engaged, the fuel flowing to the engine is stopped, hydraulics and electrical power are also stopped, and remote fire extinguishers deploy.

One retired American Airlines pilot commented that had Emerson been able to complete this action it “would have been disastrous”. If Emerson was able to shut both engines and the airplane’s pilots were able to reassume control of the plane they would have needed about 20 minutes to get the engines restarted. If Emerson had been able to shut one engine down, the aircraft would have lurched to one side due to a thrust imbalance.

Air-traffic control recordings captured the pilot of the aircraft calling in the incident and asking for police assistance once on the ground. He said Emerson went “a little overboard” but was removed from the cockpit and seemed calm in the passenger section of the airplane. Emerson was handcuffed for the rest of the flight and arrested when the plane landed. He’s now been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder.

There was no prior indication that Emerson, a married father of two, had any mental issues. He had passed his most recent screening and was medically certified last month. Pilots have to be certified every six months and are expected to self-report any issues they may be having. Emerson is being held in detention in Portland, where he will soon be arraigned.

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