In our previous report, we reported on a shocking incident that unfolded on Horizon Air Flight 2059, a regional carrier for Alaska, during its journey from Everett (PAE) to San Francisco (SFO). An off-duty pilot, Joseph David Emerson, seated in the jumpseat, allegedly attempted to shut off the engines mid-flight. The plane, an Embraer E175, was ultimately diverted to Portland International Airport (PDX), where Emerson was apprehended by law enforcement. The incident led to a laundry list of charges, including 83 felony counts of attempted murder, 83 misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment, and 1 felony count of endangering an aircraft.
Now, new details have emerged, shedding light on the harrowing events that took place on that fateful flight.
The FAA’s Chilling Notice
An FAA notice distributed to all U.S. airlines through its Domestic Events Network classified this as a “significant security event.” It disclosed that the “jump seat passenger” had attempted to disable the aircraft engines while the plane was at cruise altitude. This attempt was made by deploying the engine fire suppression system.
In the Embraer E175, the fire handles, which are critical for controlling the engines, are located above the pilots on the ceiling. Pulling down the handle is a simple yet effective way to shut off fuel to the affected engine, quite literally halting the addition of fuel to the fire. This action, however, results in the engine’s immediate shutdown due to the lack of fuel supply. Rotating the handle after it’s pulled down activates two redundant fire suppression canisters; left for canister “A” and right for canister “B.”
Alaska Air spokesperson Alexa Rudin revealed that, thankfully, some residual fuel remained in the line. The quick response of the flight crew, who reset the handles and restored fuel flow, averted a catastrophic fuel starvation.
During the incident, the pilot flying the plane relayed a calm but chilling message to Portland air traffic control. “I’ll just give you a heads-up. We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit,” the pilot stated. “It doesn’t seem like he’s causing any issue at the back. I think he’s subdued.”
From Level 4 Threat to Handcuffs
As the plane approached Portland for its final landing, the air traffic controller sought verification of the threat level. The pilot flying responded, designating it as a “Level 4” threat, indicating a “breach of the flight crew compartment.” However, the situation evolved rapidly, with the pilot adding, “The threat is now in the back of the airplane, so we’ve reduced the threat level.”
The crew, after a check-in with the flight attendants, informed air traffic control that the individual who had attempted to shut down the engines was “handcuffed and he’s in the aft back jumpseat for when law enforcement arrives, and right now he’s staying calm.” This “aft back jumpseat” is typically used by a flight attendant during landing.
A Heroic Response
Under the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) deputizes qualified volunteer pilots as law enforcement officers to defend the flight deck of aircraft against acts of criminal violence and air piracy. This completely voluntary program, upon completion of specialized training, allows deputized pilots to carry a concealed handgun in order to protect their passengers. It’s currently unclear whether either of the pilots on this flight had such training or if they were carrying concealed weapons, but they certainly acted heroically to prevent a potentially catastrophic outcome.
In a statement, the FBI assured the public that there is no ongoing threat related to this incident, while the FAA pledged its full support to law enforcement investigations.
As the investigation unfolds, stay tuned for further updates as more details emerge.
h/t Seattle Times