Off-duty pilot charged for trying to cut engines speaks up: ‘I made a big mistake’

In his first public interview since being arrested, Joseph Emerson, the off-duty pilot who was charged with trying to cut a plane’s engines, said he thought he was in hell before the flight and admitted he made a big mistake.

Emerson is a pilot for Alaska Airlines. Last month, he boarded a flight while not on duty and tried to shut off the engines midflight while sitting in an extra seat in the cockpit.

The other pilots subdued Emerson and made an emergency landing in Portland. He was taken into custody and has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder, one for every passenger and crew member aboard. Federal prosecutors accused him of interfering with a flight crew, The New York Times reported.

According to Emerson, he had no intention of hurting anyone; he was acting in a hallucinogenic state, which he had been in since taking psychedelic mushrooms two days prior. Emerson said he took the mushrooms during a weekend getaway with friends to commemorate the death of his best friend, a loss he was struggling with, the Times reported.

“I thought of a lot of traumatic things in that time where I was like, ‘Am I dead? Is this hell?’” Emerson told the Times. “I’m reliving that trauma.”

Emerson departed the vacation and made his way to the airport to head home. He said he was confused and struggled to understand what was going on around him. Emerson yelled to the on-duty pilots asking for help, he then panicked and grabbed the handles to shut off the engine.

He said he asked a flight attendant to restrain him out of fear of what he might do next.

Emerson told a law enforcement officer when they arrived in Portland that “if this is real, and all of that was real, then I have done something to me that is unfathomable.”

“I am horrified that those actions put myself at risk and others at risk,” he told the Times from a county jail in Portland. “That crew got dealt a situation there’s no manual, checklist or procedure that’s been written for. And they did an exemplary job keeping me and the rest of the people on that plane safe.”

Emerson said he wants to be as transparent as possible about what happened.

Passengers of the Alaska Airlines flight have filed a class-action lawsuit against the airline that alleges the airline did not properly follow its policy by allowing Emerson to sit in the cockpit despite admitting he was feeling unwell.

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