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Ex-Alaska Pilot Dodges Attempted Murder Charges

The pilot - who tried to cut the engines on a Horizon Air flight - was originally facing several counts of attempted murder.

A Horizon Air E175 at Paine Field outside Seattle. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

A grand jury has dropped attempted murder charges against a former Alaska Airlines pilot accused of trying to cut the engines of a Horizon Air flight in October. Joseph Emerson will now face 83 charges of recklessly endangering another person for each passenger and one charge of endangering an aircraft, according to the Associated Press.

Emerson was previously indicted by state prosecutors on attempted murder charges for his actions on the flight from Everett, Wash. to San Francisco. He also faces a federal charge of interfering with a flight crew.

Emerson’s attorneys argued that the attempted murder charges were inappropriate because their client never intended to hurt anyone. “He simply wanted to return home to his wife and children,” they said in a statement. The defense also claimed that Emerson was not aware of his actions at the time, suggesting he might have been delusional or had a mental health episode.

The decision to drop the attempted murder charges comes as a victory for Emerson’s defense team. However, he still faces a significant number of both state and federal charges that could result in a lengthy prison sentence.

“Captain Emerson apologizes for his actions. He also thanks the flight crew for their response and for showing him kindness and grace during his mental breakdown,” the law firm’s statement said.

Mental Health in Aviation

Multiple federal agencies are continuing to investigate the incident. This case has brought questions about mental health in aviation to light. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is set to hold a summit on mental health in the aviation workforce on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

It is unclear what sentence Emerson will face if convicted of the remaining charges. The trial is expected to begin sometime next year.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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