An off-duty pilot who claims he was in the middle of a bad trip on psychedelic mushrooms when he attempted to shut off the engines of an Alaska Airlines plane mid-flight has been indicted on 84 charges related to the Oct 22 incident.
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt confirmed Tuesday that a grand jury indicted Joseph David Emerson on one count of endangering aircraft in the first degree and 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person.
Despite being initially charged with 83 counts of attempted murder, the grand jury declined to charge the 44-year-old, according to ABC News, ruling he did not deliberately attempt to injure anyone at the time.
The charges were “never appropriate in this case because Captain Emerson never intended to hurt another person or put anyone at risk–he just wanted to return home to his wife and children,” a statement from his lawyers said.
“Simply put: Captain Emerson thought he was in a dream; his actions were taken in a single-minded effort to wake up from that dream and return home to his family.”
The lawyers added they were “disappointed” their client was still indicted on 83 counts of recklessly endangering another person.
“Captain Emerson had no criminal intent, and we look forward to being able to present a fulsome defense at trial and bring forth all the facts and circumstances to a jury. Captain Emerson’s defense team is crafting a release plan and expect that he will finally return home to his family by the end of this week.”
Emerson pleaded not guilty. He is being held at the Multnomah County Detention Center, according to Schmidt, and is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday morning.
Speaking to The New York Times from prison last month, Emerson explained that he had taken psychedelic mushrooms for the first time two days before the incident during a weekend trip in which he gathered with friends to commemorate the death of his own best friend.
At the time, the flight was en route to San Francisco from Everett, Washington, but was forced to divert to Portland, Oregon, as Emerson experienced his mid-flight meltdown.
The off-duty pilot, who was seated in the cockpit jump seat when he tried to shut off the engines, said he was still in a hallucinogenic state as the plane took off, adding he had not dealt with longstanding mental health issues.
The Times noted the difficulty for pilots struggling with such issues, facing potential grounding by their airline if they seek psychiatric help. In an email to The Times, Alaska Airlines, who Emerson works as a pilot, said that “more can be done” to support pilot mental health.
Emerson claimed he texted a friend while on the flight saying he was having a “panic attack,” and that he thought he was dead or dreaming. He yelled at the pilots for help, but said he was convinced that if he shut the engines of the plane off, he would wake up.
After a struggle with the pilots of the plane, Emerson was taken into custody, where he recalled stripping naked, trying to jump out a window, urinating on himself and even attempting to ejaculate in an attempt to wake-up as he was being interviewed by cops and held in a cell at the airport.
It took him five days to finally sober up, he claimed. “I am horrified that those actions put myself at risk and others at risk.”
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