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Alaska Airlines flight diverts after off-duty pilot attempts to disable engines

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By David Shepardson and Allison Lampert

() -An Alaska Airlines flight bound for San Francisco was diverted to Portland, Oregon, after an off-duty pilot inside the flight deck attempted to disable the aircraft engines.

The suspect, 44-year-old Joseph David Emerson (NYSE:), was booked on 83 counts of attempted murder and endangering an airplane, according to Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office booking information, after being arrested by Port of Portland police.

Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 operated by Horizon Air from Everett, Washington, diverted on Sunday after reporting a credible security threat, the airline said.

“I’ll just give you a heads-up. We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit,” the Horizon pilot told FAA air traffic control, according to audio posted by LiveATC. “It doesn’t sound like he’s causing any issue at the back. I think he’s subdued… We want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked.”

The Federal Aviation Administration told airlines in a notice seen by the off-duty pilot sought to disable the engines on the Embraer 175 regional jet by deploying the fire suppression system and added the crew was able to subdue the individual and remove him from the flight deck. The engines were never disabled, Alaska said.

Port of Portland police officers met the flight and took the subject into custody without incident, and said the investigation is ongoing.

An FAA pilot database shows Emerson is listed as a certified pilot who received a medical clearance last month. Aviators are expected to self-report any mental health conditions, two U.S. pilots told

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the world’s largest pilots union, which represents aviators at Alaska, said in a statement that the airline “profession in North America is one of the most highly vetted and scrutinized careers.”

Adam Silverthorne, president of California-based NRI Flying Club, said the incident is incongruous with the kind and methodical family man he knew several years ago when Emerson was a club member and provided some flight instruction. A club newsletter mentioned Emerson was at NRI in 2016.

“To say that it was out of character would be a huge understatement,” Silverthorne said by phone. “It’s bonkers.”

The FBI in Portland said it “is investigating and can assure the traveling public there is no continuing threat related to this incident.”

The FAA told airlines in a separate notice on Monday the incident “is not connected in any way, shape or form to current world events” but said it is “always good practice to maintain vigilance.”

It is standard practice for off-duty pilots to sit in jump seats to return home or to a future flight assignment.

Alaska Airlines said all passengers on board were able to travel on a later flight.

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