- The pilot accused of grabbing two engine stop handles in mid-flight has spoken out in an interview.
- Joseph Emerson is charged with 83 counts of attempted murder.
- He told the New York Times that he was in a hallucinogenic state and pulled the handles to “wake himself up.”
The pilot charged with 83 counts of attempted murder after grabbing two engine kill handles in the middle of an Alaska Airlines flight said in a jailhouse interview that he was “horrified” by his actions.
Joseph Emerson told the New York Times in an interview from the Multnomah County, Oregon, jail that he had a long history of mental health issues, having used psychedelic mushrooms two days before the plane’s flight October 22 and that he believed he was currently stuck in a hallucinogenic state. he reached out to grab the handles.
“I thought it would stop both engines, the plane would start to crash and I would wake up,” Emerson told the Times.
Emerson also expressed gratitude to the pilots who stopped him from pulling on the handles and to the crew members who restrained him with flex cuffs while the plane made an emergency landing in Portland. Emerson added that even two days after his arrest, he still couldn’t say whether his indictment before the court and his lawyers was real.
“I am horrified that these actions put me and others in danger,” Emerson told the newspaper. “This crew was faced with a situation for which there is no manual, checklist or written procedure. And they did an exemplary job of keeping me and the rest of the people on board this aircraft safe.”
Federal court records indicate Emerson also told authorities after his arrest that he was depressed, had not slept in 40 hours and was suffering from a nervous breakdown. The incident sparked public criticism of the FAA’s mental health regulations, which critics say discourage pilots like Emerson from seeking mental health treatment.
The agency grounds all pilots who say they are seeking treatment – whether it’s medication or even just therapy – leaving them in limbo and without income for months or years at a time for that they undergo the FAA psychiatric evaluation process. Although the FAA has approved the use of five common antidepressants for pilots, pilots and aviation experts told Insider that the process of getting medical clearance to fly while taking antidepressants was so long and risky that many pilots prefer not to seek treatment at all.
Last week, the FAA announced it would launch a new committee tasked with “removing barriers that prevent pilots from reporting mental health issues to the agency.”
In a previous statement to Insider, the agency said it encourages pilots to seek treatment for mental health issues “since most, if treated, do not disqualify a pilot from flying.”
Emerson’s wife, Sarah Stretch, told the Times that she had previously asked her husband if he was looking to take medications such as antidepressants. Emerson had refused, saying he did not want to risk their livelihood.
“His racing career was his life,” Stretch said.
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