Alaska Airlines Sued by Passengers After Off-Duty Pilot Tries to Disable Plane’s Engines Mid-Flight

Emma Grant

SEATTLE, Washington – Three passengers filed a lawsuit against Alaska Airlines on Thursday, November 2nd, after an off-duty pilot riding in the cockpit jump seat allegedly attempted to disable the aircraft’s engines mid-flight, accusing the Seattle-based carrier of failing to ensure passenger safety.

The legal complaint stems from an terrifying in-flight emergency declared by the crew of Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 as it was flying over the Pacific Northwest en route from Everett, Washington to San Francisco on October 22nd.

Horizon Air, the regional subsidiary operating the flight for Alaska Airlines, was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was submitted by the Stritmatter Law Firm on behalf of the three passengers. The firm told Reuters this is the first lawsuit filed in relation to the alarming incident.

Alaska Airlines provided a brief statement to Reuters saying they have received the complaint and are currently reviewing it.

Proposed Class-Action Suit Seeks Damages, New Security Measures

The lawsuit was filed in a Washington state court Thursday as a proposed class-action complaint on behalf of all passengers aboard the endangered aircraft.

The three passengers bringing the suit are seeking special and general damages in amounts to be determined at trial, including reimbursement of ticket fees, compensation for psychological injury, physical pain and suffering, and other damages.

In addition to monetary compensation, the lawsuit aims to prompt injunctive relief mandating Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air to implement more rigorous security examinations of all flight crew members and pilots occupying jump seats, including assessments of their “mental health status.”

Off-Duty Pilot Faces 83 Counts of Attempted Murder

The off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who allegedly tried to disable the plane’s engines mid-flight was identified as Joseph David Emerson, who was riding as a standby passenger in the cockpit jump seat.

According to court records, Emerson told police after being restrained by the cabin crew that he had been struggling with depression for the past six months and had ingested “magic mushrooms” approximately 48 hours prior to boarding the aircraft.

The plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon where Emerson was arrested. The 44-year-old now faces 83 counts of attempted murder, reflecting the number of souls on board the plane besides himself, as well as a single charge of endangering an aircraft.

Passengers Seek Details on Lack of Security Screening

The plaintiffs behind Thursday’s lawsuit are demanding Alaska Air and Horizon Air publicly explain why Emerson was allegedly not subjected to any pre-flight security screening or examination that might have detected his reported mental health issues and prevented him from boarding.

The proposed class action suit aims to force new security protocols requiring extensive mental evaluations of all pilots and crew members, even those off-duty, to avoid similar terrifying incidents that endanger passengers lives.

Read More: Jury Awards Over $1 Million to American Airlines Flight Attendants Sickened by Uniforms

FBI Launches Investigation Into Alarming Mid-Flight Incident

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also launched a criminal investigation into the near-disastrous events aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 2059. The FBI’s Seattle field office released a statement saying they will be working closely with the Alaskan Airlines to ascertain how the off-duty pilot was cleared to occupy the cockpit jump seat.

Terrified Passengers Restrain Pilot During Mid-Air Emergency

Passengers described sheer horror and panic as the off-duty pilot seating in the cockpit began flipping switches and pressing buttons in an apparent attempt to shut off the aircraft’s engines mid-flight.

Several male passengers and crew members had to tackle Emerson and restrain him until the plane made its emergency landing. Many on board were crying, texting loved ones goodbye messages, or calling family members to say farewell in what they believed to be their final moments.

“I honestly thought I was going to die,” recalled passenger Rachel Adams. “We were all texting our loved ones goodbye and asking them to hug our children for us.”

Another passenger, Eva Schmidt, described the terror of watching an out-of-control pilot tampering with the plane’s controls while cruising at 30,000 feet.

“I was saying my prayers and just waiting for the plane to crash into the ocean,” Schmidt said. “If those men hadn’t jumped on him and stopped him, we’d all be dead.”

Overall, Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air are facing intense scrutiny for failing to identify and halt an emotionally unstable pilot from occupying the cockpit jump seat and nearly causing one of the most disastrous crashes in aviation history. The newly filed lawsuit is the first of what may be many actions taken by passengers demanding answers and accountability.


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Emma Grant is a highly regarded legal news expert with a deep understanding of constitutional law and its implications in contemporary society. With her extensive background in legal journalism and analysis, Emma Grant has established herself as a trusted authority on the intersection of law, policy, and society.