Wife of ex-Alaska Airlines pilot says she's in shock after averted Horizon Air disaster

"He never would've done that. He never would've knowingly done any of that," she added, her voice quivering.

ByDan Noyes and Tim Johns KGO logo
Friday, October 27, 2023
Wife of Bay Area pilot says she's in shock after midair scare
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The wife of ex-Alaska Airlines pilot Joseph Emerson says she's in shock after averted Horizon Air disaster. "That's not my Joe."

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGO) -- The off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot accused of trying to crash a flight headed to San Francisco this past Sunday had his first appearance in federal court Thursday afternoon.

Joseph Emerson, 44, of Pleasant Hill pleaded "not guilty" to "Interference with Flight Crew Members and Attendants." That one charge could bring up to 20 years in prison.

VIDEO: Off-duty pilot who tried to cut engines told police he experimented with mushrooms, complaint says

Bay Area pilot Joseph Emerson who allegedly tried to shut down Alaska Airlines plane's engines pleaded not guilty to attempted murder charges.

Ethan Levi, a defense attorney for Emerson, said that Emerson was not suicidal or homicidal while on board the Horizon Air flight. "There was no intention to harm himself or other people," he said.

Levi added that Emerson wanted to thank the flight crew for their "timely and heroic actions."

After the hearing, Emerson's wife, Sarah, spoke to reporters outside the federal courtroom in Portland, Oregon. She told reporters that she knew her husband was struggling with depression, but "This is not my Joe. He never would have done that. He never would've knowingly done any of that. That is not the man I married."

On Thursday, federal prosecutors filed an amended complaint against Emerson with some interesting additions.

RELATED: Alaska Airlines passengers describe off-duty pilot's demeanor, moments leading up to arrest

Passengers who were onboard Alaska Airlines describe what led up to the off-duty pilot arrest after he allegedly tried to shut down the engines.

It now says Emerson had not slept for 48 hours before the flight, not the 40 hours first noted, and that corresponds with the time frame in which he told police he took psychedelic mushrooms.

Emerson claimed he was despondent over the recent death of his best friend, but the amended complaint now says that friend died six years ago.

According to the FBI affidavit, Emerson felt he was suffering a nervous breakdown aboard the Alaska Airlines flight operated by Horizon Air from Everett, Washington to San Francisco on Sunday. The off-duty pilot was riding in a cockpit jump seat when he said, "I'm not okay," and reached up for the emergency engine shut off handles. The pilots had to wrestle with Emerson to keep the plane under control.

RELATED: Audio reveals moments after off-duty pilot allegedly tried to shut down engines of SF-bound flight

Here's the Air Traffic Control audio recording moments after off-duty pilot allegedly attempted to shut down an Alaska Airline plane's engines.

Prosecutors also clarified what Emerson told a flight attendant after leaving the cockpit: "I need you to cuff me before I do something wrong, it's going to be bad."

Even after being handcuffed, the complaint says Emerson tried to open an emergency door.

Also on Thursday, in state court, his defense team waived the 60-day rule. That's when a trial must start, after an arrest.

Emerson appeared in state court Tuesday, facing 83 counts of attempted murder.

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