Passengers sue Alaska Airlines after off-duty pilot accused of trying to shut off engines mid-flight

Passengers on the Alaska Airlines flight where an off-duty pilot attempted to cut off the engines felt the plane dramatically pitch forward, as if it were in a nosedive, according to a newly-filed lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed by three passengers against Alaska Airlines and Horizon Airlines, the operator of flight 2059, claims the airlines did not properly evaluate off-duty pilot Joseph Emerson before he was seated in an extra cockpit seat – the jump seat – on the October 22 flight.

“Had they done so, he more likely than not would have been denied admission and could not have been in position to nearly kill everyone aboard,” the lawsuit claims.

Alaska Airlines has said its ground and air crews had observed no “signs of impairment that would have led them to prevent Emerson from flying.” It said Friday it is reviewing the lawsuit, and applauded the crew’s actions.

“The pilots and flight attendants operating Flight 2059 responded without hesitation to ensure the safety of all onboard,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement. “We are incredibly proud and grateful for their skilled actions.”

Emerson is accused of attempting to kill everyone on board when he tried to activate a fire extinguisher system that shuts down the fuel lines to the engines. After the incident, Emerson told police he experienced a nervous breakdown, had been depressed and recently used magic mushrooms.

He is being held without bail at the Multnomah County Jail in Portland, Oregon. He has been charged in federal court with interfering with a flight crew, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon has announced. Emerson also faces dozens of state charges in Oregon, including 83 felony counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft, booking records show. He has pleaded not guilty to all state charges.

Before the lawsuit was filed, Emerson’s attorney, Noah Horst, told CNN Emerson “would never intentionally hurt another person” and was not “under the influence of any intoxicants” on the flight.

The lawsuit reveals new details about what passengers experienced onboard the plane.

“Passengers on the plane had been experiencing a normal flight for 45 minutes to 1 hour, when the plane suddenly experienced what felt like a nosedive,” the suit says. “A flight attendant on the intercom announced to the passengers of the plane needed to land immediately. The surprised Plaintiffs were left in the dark about what was happening”

“Thoughts of a complete plane malfunction or terrorist activity naturally entered their minds,” the lawsuit says.

Passengers then observed Emerson exit the cockpit, walk to the back of the plane and attempt to open a plane door, the lawsuit says.

Some passengers, the lawsuit says, learned about what was happening through friends on the ground who looked at aviation tracking websites.

Despite a long list of incidents where pilots have successfully commandeered aircraft – a list enumerated in the court filing – the lawsuit claims Alaska Airlines did not properly evaluate Emerson’s fitness to ride in the cockpit jump seat.

The lawsuit says the passengers’ damages include emotional distress and asks the court to consider the matter a class-action lawsuit. It does not list a dollar amount for the alleged damages but does ask the court to order Alaska Airlines and Horizon to better screen crew members prior to flights.

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