Off-Duty Pilot Accused of Trying to Bring Down Plane Said He Had Tried Shrooms for First Time

The man allegedly said he was having a “nervous breakdown” after he tried to shut off the plane's engines.
Alaska Airlines Airbus A320-214 arrives at Los Angeles international Airport on October 02, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

An off-duty pilot accused of trying to ground an Alaska Airlines flight said he was having a “nervous breakdown” and was high on psychedelic mushrooms at the time, according to court documents. 

Joseph Emerson, 44, has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder and 83 counts of reckless endangerment after being accused of trying to shut down the engines on a flight traveling from Everett to San Francisco Sunday. He was slated to be arraigned on Tuesday. He is also facing one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants. 


According to an affidavit filed Tuesday, Emerson, who has been an Alaska Airlines pilot for over 20 years, had been sitting in the cockpit with the flight’s two pilots when he attempted to pull on the emergency fire handles while the flight was halfway between Astoria, Oregon and Portland. Had he been successful, he “would have shut down the hydraulics and the fuel to the engines, turning the aircraft into a glider within seconds,” the federal complaint said. 

After he grabbed the emergency handles, one of the pilots grabbed Emerson’s wrist, while the other declared an emergency, the complaint continued. Emerson allegedly obeyed when told to leave the cockpit and headed towards the back of the flight where he told a flight attendant, “You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad.” While cuffed, he allegedly tried to grab the handle of an emergency exit, but was stopped by a flight attendant, the affidavit said. 

Another flight attendant alleged Emerson said, “I messed everything up” and “tried to kill everybody.” 

Once apprehended, Emerson allegedly told police he was having a “nervous breakdown”, hadn’t slept in 40 hours and had taken shrooms for the first time. He said he was dehydrated and tired. He said he wasn’t on any medication but had become depressed six months ago. 

“I pulled both emergency shut off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up,” he allegedly told police. He also said he wouldn’t fight any charges brought against him, police said. 


The pilots told police Emerson had been casually chatting with them before he declared, “I am not OK,” and threw his headset. They said there was initially no indication anything was wrong. 

The FBI is still investigating if Emerson was under the influence of any drugs when he tried to take down the plane, NBC News reports. 

This isn’t the first time someone accused of a serious crime has later claimed to be intoxicated on shrooms. 

In 2020, a university hockey player in Calgary was acquitted of beating a 66-year-old professor and breaking into her home by arguing he was so high on mushrooms he had no control over his actions. 

The defense team of Nathaniel Veltman, 22, the man currently on trial for killing a Muslim family in London, Ontario in June 2021, has said he took shrooms the night before the racist attack.