An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot tried to crash a plane while riding in the cockpit jump seat of a flight from Seattle Paine Field to San Francisco last month.
Joseph David Emerson tried to activate the fire suppression system to cut off fuel to the plane’s engines. The flight’s pilots wrestled him away. He was cuffed at the back of the aircraft and the plane diverted to Portland. The pilot was arrested and he told the police he thought he was dreaming and that he’d taken mushrooms.
Now the man is
He’d gotten together with friends to celebrate his friend who had died, and he mixed mushrooms and alcohol – and days later thought he was dreaming and couldn’t wake up. All he was trying to do was wake up and that’s why he tried to kill the engines, and also tried to open the plane’s emergency exit once taken to the back. He even says that the grabbed a coffee pot from the galley and drank it straight to wake himself up.
While being held by police at the airport he took off all of his clothes, he urinated on himself, and he tried cuffing the carrot… all to ‘wake up.’ When he was given a phone to call an attorney, he instead rang his wife and sang It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday by Boyz II Men.
My takeaways: the story is probably true, it’s also a pretty good temporary insanity defense? And it seems pitch perfect for the current conversation on pilot mental health.
It is a real challenge that many medical conditions a pilot may have aren’t going to be obvious in a medical exam, and that you want pilots with problems to be able to speak up. That’s doubly so when they’re mental problems or problems with alcohol and drugs. But speaking up and seeking help creates the risk of being sidelined, despite programs designed to encourage them to do so.
Put another way, you want pilots to be able to feel safe coming forward with their problems. But once they tell you they’re hallucinating and having thoughts about bringing down an aircraft, can you let them back in the cockpit? And keeping them from doing so communicates that they can’t safely come forward in the first place. All the programs designed to address this in the world still face this fundamental conundrum, and attempt to dial somewhat more towards pilot safety. But this isn’t an easy issue.