Here’s How The Alaska Pilot Tried To Shut Off Engines Midflight And Take Down The Plane

Covering the Alaska Airlines pilot who tried to take down a plane Sunday night by shutting down the engines of the Seattle Paine Field to San Francisco regional jet, I wondered just how did he go about doing this?

It was confirmed that this was not a hijacking and that no weapons were involved. He didn’t try to take control of the cockpit from the captain and co-pilot. In fact, the flight’s cockpit crew were able to maintain control of the plane and take the man into custody, keeping him subdued in the back of the aircraft until they were able to get the plane onto the ground in Portland.

The answer to what transpired actually comes from an internal American Airlines communication about the incident, where the airline explains that “44 year old Joseph Emerson tried “to disable the aircraft engines while at cruise altitude by deploying the engine fire suppressions system.”

The Alaska Airlines pilot flying in the jumpseat didn’t try to take over the controls. He didn’t try to stall the plane, or redirect its course. He tried to extinguish both engines as though there was a fire. And that’s something he could at least attempt to do without taking full control of the aircraft. But it still seems like a long shot to succeed in ultimately accomplishing the objective with two pilots sitting between him and the controls.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Just a thought….it will be interesting to find out what really happened versus the initial News reaction….it’s not impossible that perhaps he just thought it would be funny to push the fire alarm test button to startle the crew is all. Not saying that’s the case nor am I denying that it would be a very stupid lack of judgement if he did, but I can see how something like that could happen…..sometimes what we hear initially can be quite different from what comes out as the truth. Be very interesting to find out more as this evolves.

  2. Hey pilot readers …. If he had succeeded in extinguishing both engines… can they then be restarted after shutting them down this way?

  3. Not exactly a “long shot” when those controls are on the overhead panel. Thankfully the pilots were alert

  4. I’m glad he didn’t succeed in whatever it is he wanted to do. However, if he truly wanted to do the unthinkable, he’s a pilot…at some point he’d be in the cockpit alone with an FA who wouldn’t have any idea of how to stop him if he were going to go through with something extreme.

    Waiting to see how the rest of this story plays out as I suspect there’s more to it.

  5. I wonder if Democrats will want to ban airplanes as they do “assault rifles” since we now have evidence they can be used in mass murder-suicide attempts.

  6. Goforride we’ve actually had evidence of that since September 11, 2001. However, since the inn the last few years firearms contributed to the deaths of more children between 1 and 17 than any other type of injury or illness, there is a lot to be said about strictly controlling weapons, particularly those that can never be used for hunting or target shooting.

    Incidentally as I’m sure most readers are aware, shutting off the engines would still give the crew some time to land, terrible as the landing options might be. A fixed wing aircraft can glide a considerable distance from altitude (depending on configuration, weight, type, etc.) so that would have at least given them a chance. The alleged instigator certainly knew this, which makes the whole story even more unclear.

  7. How about the return of the 5 member flight crews, captain, co-pilot, flight engineer, navigator, radio operator.

  8. What is going on?

    “An off-duty pilot accused of trying to shut off the engines on a packed-out Alaska Airlines passenger jet on Sunday has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder.

    Joseph David Emerson, 44, faces the litany of homicide charges along with an additional 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft, police documents show.

    Emerson is believed to have been sat in the jump seat beside the operating pilot on board a Embraer 175 plane flying from Everett in suburban Seattle to San Francisco.

  9. There are two airline pilots by the name of Joseph Emerson. One, with the middle initial of “D”, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is rated to fly the A320 and 737.

  10. To Drrichards point which was a good one about how weird this is…I posted elsewhere speculating this story may take an odd twist….did he simply do something stupid like hit the fire warning test buttons ( as a stupid joke) rather then actually try to pull the handles? I am not suggesting that’s what I think, just speculating that this is a weird one and will be very interesting to see how this transpires

  11. Whoops, actually it was above, sorry for the redundancy but I do stress I’m not suggesting that’s what happened, just speculation…..very odd deal and what the hell did he think would have happened ?…

  12. The guy was in the jump seat, if he wanted to take the pilot(s) out, he would have been in a good position to do so as he’s behind them and they would have never known what was coming in the event of wanting to strangle/choke at least one of them. There has to be so much more to this story.

  13. I agree 2808 but just read a little more on this and my speculation above …. (stupid joke pushing the fire test button and lighting up both handles) appears wrong

  14. @Da ve Changing the Jumpseat regulations won’t change a thing. There are thousands of pilots who jumpseat every week without issue and have for decades. One incident that was handled should not upend the entire industry. Many airlines have up to 90% of their pilots commuting to domiciles so the airlines would quite frankly grind to a halt. Besides, he was a captain. This would be a very different story had he waited until the flight he was jumpseating to actually fly. Then the jumpseat wouldn’t even be a topic of the conversation…

  15. @johnw The first officer calmly told ATC..he is in the back now and everything is calm. Uggghh? The jump seater is type rated in the A320,737, CFI,II. Something does not add up unless mind went off the deep end.

    An engine can be restarted in the air but usually not if the fire retardant has been extinguished.

  16. It’s a good thing that this incident highlighted the situation with this jump seat pilot. If he had been flying a flight, the incident could have been a lot worse. Now he won’t be flying airplanes. I wonder if this was a stupid “brake check” type of situation to see how the pilots reacted.

  17. @jns I find it hard to believe that this guy really wanted to down the plane. If that was his sole intention, he could have done so with a plane he was piloting.

    It’s not like the recipe for disaster would have been hard to create. Wait for co-pilot to leave the cockpit for the restroom. When it’s just him and an unsuspecting FA on the flight deck, put the plane into a nosedive and it would have been game over.

  18. The guy was a lib as his twitter feed shows.

    Left wing people have double the mental illnesses as normal people.

  19. Imagine what it was like on the aircraft after he had been subdued but before the plane landed safely…AwKwArD!!!

  20. @drrichard “However, since the inn the last few years firearms contributed to the deaths of more children between 1 and 17 than any other type of injury or illness, there is a lot to be said about strictly controlling weapons, particularly those that can never be used for hunting or target shooting.”

    Sorry, simply not true. You can go here to see if you like:
    1) 5 minutes of searching shows motor vehicles far above any firearms related deaths, even if you include suicide.

    2) The actual numbers out of 3million people are ridiculously small.

    3) There is “a lot to be said” apparently (what does that mean?) but very little of it contributes to a valid argument that firearms are a statistically significant way that people die in the US.

  21. Agree @marty….just really weird deal and so much that doesn’t make sense,….looked online at more stories about the guy and it’s even weirder…..he seems to have been relatively normal (if that’s possible!) and there seems to be no indication of problems that would lead to this…..thinking out of the box I can see a situation where he could have thought it was funny to reach up with both hands and say “double engine failure” thinking it was a joke…..stupid, obnoxious and terribly misguided, but stupid obnoxious misguided jokes do occur and this could be an extreme case of that…..just speculating out loud as none of us has any idea what really transpired yet…..just saw he gets arraigned today and maybe that will provide more hints

  22. Another possibility….he was somehow accidentally drugged? Fentanyl? Further reading and it seems he wasn’t being aggressive, just out of it….

  23. Why is it that certain people frequently make stupid ass comments, on these forums, about other people making stupid ass comments?

  24. Interesting developments and at least it’s no longer the mystery those of us that weren’t immediately pointing fingers were so mystified by, it just didn’t have the earmarks of a premeditated attempt at terrorism…… @Jim……….the MAGA mentality isn’t all Republicans but just the people that blindly support Trump……remember when Trump bragged about how he could grab your wife’s or daughters pussy and get away with it because he’s rich and “famous”? Trump also bragged he could shoot someone in Central Park and his followers would still support him. They don’t get that what he was saying is they couldn’t think for themselves. That seems to be the perspective of the name callers on here. They just throw out baseless attacks and generalizations.
    This mentality has morphed into him being able to manipulate them with his election lie. But ignoring the importance of integrity and honesty ultimately collapses and good ultimately wins.
    They’re just trying to make a point with their extreme views, people on the far left are sometimes almost as bad…..we’ll at least they don’t stoop to the level of dishonesty and immorality that Trump does. But the truth is most of us in person are not like the extremists that so often post on social media.

Comments are closed.