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Scary: Off-Duty Alaska Airlines Pilot Attempts to Shut Down Both Engines Inflight

On the 22nd of October, 2023 an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot, attempted to shut down both of the engines of an Embraer E175 regional jet. 

The Horizon Airlines Embraer ERJ-175LR operating on behalf of Alaska Airlines, with registration N660QX was performing flight AS2059 from Everett to San Francisco. However, while it was en route at FL310 about 40nm southwest of Portland, the crew decided to turn around and divert to Portland. 

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the jump seat passenger attempted to disable aircraft engines while at a cruising altitude by deploying the engine fire suppression system. Thankfully, the crew was able to subdue the suspect and he was removed from the flight deck.

a map of a plane and a map of a plane
Flight AS2059. Source: FlightRadar24

In an audio recording, which was also shared on the internet, the crew informed the ATC that there had been a threat on board the aircraft. Shortly after, the crew informed that the off-duty pilot who was seated in the jumpseat was now in the back of the cabin.

Flight AS2059: “We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit and he doesn’t sound like he’s causing any issue in the back right now, I think he’s subdued.”

Upon query by the controller, the pilot relayed the official airline threat designation as “Level 4,” which means an attempted or actual breach of the flight crew compartment.

The crew immediately communicated with air traffic control, requesting law enforcement support upon landing at Portland International Airport. The aircraft landed safely on Portland’s runway 28L about 20 minutes after leaving FL310.

Flight AS2059: “We want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked.”

“On October 22, Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 operated by Horizon Air from Everett to San Francisco reported a credible security threat related to an authorized occupant in the flight deck jump seat. The crew secured the aircraft without incident.”

Alaska Airlines spokesperson

A statement from Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, commended the Horizon Air Captain and First Officer for their swift response. They emphasized that engine power was not lost, and the crew successfully secured the aircraft without further incident. 

“The Horizon Captain and First Officer quickly responded, engine power was not lost, and the crew secured the aircraft without incident. Fortunately some residual fuel remained in the line, and the quick reaction of our crew to reset the handles restored fuel flow and prevented fuel starvation.”

Alaska Airlines spokesperson

Passenger Experience

Passenger accounts paint a vivid picture of the harrowing experience. The flight, which had departed from Everett’s Paine Field airport, was carrying 80 passengers, including lap infants. Many passengers onboard expressed their fear and anxiety as they witnessed the unfolding drama.

The investigation into this incident has been taken up by the FBI, which assures the traveling public that there is no ongoing threat related to this event.

As reported by the Aviation Herald, Portland’s Police have arrested the 44-year-old male, reportedly identified as Joseph Emerson, on charges of 83 counts of attempted murder, one count of endangering an aircraft, and other charges of reckless endangerment (a total of 167 counts).

Furthermore, Alaska Airlines has stated that they are cooperating with law enforcement authorities and investigating the incident thoroughly. Meanwhile, the Air Line Pilots Association, the union representing Alaska Airlines pilots, has reminded the public that the airline pilot profession undergoes extensive vetting and continuous evaluation to ensure the safety of air travel.

“Following appropriate FAA procedures and guidance from air traffic control, the flight was safely diverted to Portland International Airport. The event is being investigated by law enforcement authorities,” stated an airline statement.


Feature Image via FlightRadar24