Docs: Off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot used psychedelic mushrooms before trying to shut off plane engines

New documents shed additional light on the state of mind of an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot that attempted to turn off a plane’s engines mid-flight, causing a flight of people from Everett, Washington to make an emergency landing in Portland.

According to a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the pilot – Joseph Emerson, 44 – told investigators that he had taken psychedelic mushrooms prior to the flight. He also said that he hadn’t slept in 40 hours, and believed he was having a "nervous breakdown."

Emerson told investigators that he had become depressed six months prior, but was not taking medicine – after hours without sleep, he said he believed he was sleeping on the plane.


Off-duty pilot Joseph Emerson accused of trying to shut off engines on flight from Everett to San Francisco

An Alaska Airlines flight on its way to San Francisco from Everett's Paine Field was diverted to Portland on Sunday after officials said an off-duty pilot tried to shut the plane's engine.   

"I’m admitting to what I did," Emerson is quoted as saying in a criminal complaint filed with the Oregon District Court. "I’m not fighting any charges you want to bring against me, guys."

Several flight attendants said that Emerson was "losing it" during the flight, and needed to be kicked out of the cockpit.

>> Off-duty pilot Joseph Emerson accused of trying to shut off engines on flight from Everett to San Francisco

Emerson reportedly told flight attendants: "I messed everything up," and that he "tried to kill everybody," according to a criminal complaint filed in Federal Court.

On Oct. 22, Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 left Paine Field in Everett, en route to San Francisco. Somewhere between Astoria, Oregon and Portland, Emerson is accused of trying to grab and pull two red fire handles that would have activated the plane’s emergency fire suppression system – cutting off fuel to the engines.

In court documents obtained by FOX 13, an FBI agent notes that a 25-30 second physical altercation took place after Emerson attempted to power off the plane’s engines.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that a brief struggle took place, before Emerson was ultimately removed from the cockpit – which he was in, riding in the cockpit jump seat as an off-duty pilot returning to San Francisco.

Audio, recorded by, indicated that the pilot had to be subdued – and they requested law enforcement to meet them on the ground as soon as they landed.
"We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit," a pilot said over the radio.

However, in the criminal complaint it’s noted that a flight attendant had to distract Emerson during the flight’s landing as he turned to an emergency exit door and tried to grab the handle.
At that point, Emerson was in "flexible handcuffs" and secured by a harness to his seat.

Emerson is set to go before a judge on Tuesday afternoon.

Jail records indicate that Emerson is facing a total of 167 charges tied to the event, that includes 83 counts of attempted murder.