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Off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot charged with attempted murder after trying to shut down plane engines midflight 

Flight 2059 from Everett, Washington, was bound for San Francisco when it was diverted to Portland, Oregon. Joseph David Emerson was booked on 83 counts of attempted murder.
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An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot has been charged with over 80 counts of attempted murder after he allegedly tried to shut off a plane's engines midflight Sunday, causing the flight to divert to Portland, Oregon.

Flight 2059, operated by Alaska Airlines subsidiary Horizon Air, took off from Everett, Washington, and was bound for San Francisco, Alaska Airlines said in a statement. It was diverted because of a “credible security” threat linked to a person in the cockpit’s flight deck jump seat.

"The jump seat occupant unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines," the airline said. "The Horizon Captain and First Officer quickly responded, engine power was not lost and the crew secured the aircraft without incident."

The flight crew followed “appropriate FAA procedures and guidance from air traffic control” in landing at Portland International Airport. The flight took off just before 5:30 p.m. local time and landed about an hour later in Portland, according to FlightAware data. 

Audio of the plane's communications with air traffic control reveal an attempt to turn off the plane's engines.

“As a heads up. We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit. It doesn’t sound like he’s got any issue in the back right now. I think he’s subdued," the pilot told air traffic control. "Other than that, we want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked.”

Typically, off-duty airline pilots sit in the jump seat of the flight deck behind the pilots to fly back to their home bases if seats are available. 

After the plane landed, Port of Portland police arrested Joseph David Emerson, 44.

He was booked on 83 counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and a count of endangering an aircraft, according to Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office booking records.

Emerson was hired by Horizon Air in 2001 and since then has been employed by Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines said.

The FBI said it is investigating and noted that no injuries were reported. It said it “can assure the traveling public there is no continuing threat related to this incident.” Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration said it is "engaged with Alaska and Horizon airlines" and "is supporting law enforcement investigations."

The FAA sent alerts to airlines after the incident saying “a validated jump seat passenger attempted to disable aircraft engines while at cruise altitude by deploying the engine fire suppressions system.”

The crew was ultimately able to “subdue the subject,” remove him from the flight deck, divert the plane and land safely, the alert said. 

In a second notification, the FAA clarified that the security event is not connected to current world events. 

All passengers were able to travel on a later flight. 

“We are grateful for the professional handling of the situation by the Horizon flight crew and appreciate our guests’ calm and patience throughout this event,” Alaska Airlines said.