Bad Trip: Pilot on Magic Mushrooms Allegedly Tries to Kill 83 Passengers


(Brett Rowland, The Center Square) An off-duty commercial airline pilot who tried to shut down the engines of a regional jet mid-flight told an officer it was his first time taking psychedelic mushrooms.

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged Joseph David Emerson, 44, of Pleasant Hill, Calif., with one count of interfering with flight crew members and attendants. The pilot already faces 83 counts of attempted murder filed by state prosecutors.

Emerson told responding officers that he hadn’t slept in 40 hours and was having a “nervous breakdown.”

“Emerson denied taking any medication, but he stated that approximately six months ago he became depressed,” according to the federal complaint filed Tuesday. “The officer and Emerson talked about the use of psychedelic mushrooms and Emerson said it was his first time taking mushrooms.”

Port of Portland police were called after the flight was diverted to Portland International Airport because of an inflight disturbance.

Police said that Emerson, an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot seated in a cockpit jump seat, had attempted to shut down the plane’s engines during the flight.

After landing, the officers interviewed the two pilots. The pilots said that Emerson was talking with them in casual conversation before he tried to grab and pull two red fire handles that would have activated the plane’s emergency fire suppression system and cut off fuel to its engines.

While sitting in the jump seat, Emerson said “I’m not OK.” He then reached for both red engine shutoff handles. The first pilot said he grabbed Emerson’s wrist while the second pilot declared an in-flight emergency. The pilots wrestled with Emerson before he stopped.

The pilots then told Emerson to leave the cockpit. He did so voluntarily. He told one flight attendant that he “just got kicked out of the flight deck” and that “You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad.”

Flight attendants put Emerson in wrist restraints and seated him in the rear of the plane. During the plane’s descent, Emerson tried to grab the handle of an emergency exit. A flight attendant stopped him.

Another flight attendant told police that Emerson said “I messed everything up” and that “he tried to kill everybody.”

After landing, Emerson told responding officers that he was having a “nervous breakdown” and had not slept in 40 hours.

Emerson also said he had been an Alaska Airlines pilot since 2001. He said he felt dehydrated and tired. Emerson said “I didn’t feel OK. It seemed like the pilots weren’t paying attention to what was going on. They didn’t…it didn’t seem right.”

He also said: “Yah…I pulled both emergency shut off handles because I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up.”

Emerson was arrested and sent to the Multnomah County Detention Center on state charges of attempted murder and reckless endangerment.

Emerson remains in Multnomah County on a federal hold pending his first appearance in federal court on a later date, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.