Bay Area pilot, wife detail what happened before he allegedly tried to crash plane headed to SFO

Dan Noyes Image
Saturday, November 11, 2023
Bay Area pilot, wife detail what happened before midair scare
Alaska Airlines pilot Joseph Emerson, accused of trying to crash a Horizon Air plane, and his wife are detailing what happened before the flight.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Alaska Airlines pilot accused of trying to crash a flight headed for San Francisco two-and-a-half weeks ago told the New York Times that he suffered a mental break after taking psychedelic mushrooms.

Doctors say, for many people, the effects of psychedelic mushrooms wear off after several hours, but that they can trigger underlying mental health challenges in some people.

VIDEO: Off-duty pilot accused of trying to crash passenger flight told police he thought he was dreaming

Here's what we know about Joseph David Emerson, the pilot accused of trying to shut off the engines of an Alaska Airlines flight.

The I-Team's Dan Noyes has also been speaking to the pilot's wife; they live in Pleasant Hill.

Forty-four-year-old Joseph Emerson was arrested and charged with attempted murder for each of the 83 passengers and crew aboard the Alaska Airlines flight from Everett, Washington to SFO on Oct. 22.

As an off-duty pilot, Emerson had been riding in the cockpit's jump seat, but he told the New York Times, that psychedelic mushrooms he took two days before left him questioning what was real -- that he thought he was dreaming as he pulled the plane's fire suppression handles that could have cut power to the engines.

Emerson told the Times, "I thought it would stop both engines, the plane would start to head towards a crash, and I would wake up."

The pilots had to struggle with Emerson to keep the airplane under control.

RELATED: Alaska Airlines passengers describe Bay Area pilot's demeanor, moments leading up to arrest

Passengers who were onboard Alaska Airlines describe what led up to the off-duty pilot arrest after he allegedly tried to shut down the engines.

Emerson's wife, Sarah Stretch, spoke with Noyes and recorded some comments: "When Joe and I spoke that weekend he wasn't himself. It was odd. I didn't understand what was going on."

Stretch also tells us, Emerson had fallen into a depression after the best man from their wedding - a fellow Alaska Airlines pilot, Scott Pinney died in 2018 while jogging on a work trip to Hawaii. "The loss of Scott was devastating to us and for Joe especially. I feel he has never come to terms with his death."

Emerson told the Times, that he and his friends spent the weekend before the flight celebrating Pinney's life, and that one of them provided the psychedelic mushrooms. Stretch says the mushrooms may have triggered an episode, and that her husband had resisted seeking help for his on-going depression for fear it could ground him as a pilot.

"Speaking to him after the incident I was so confused and worried because he wasn't making any sense," Stretch said. "It just wasn't the Joe I know and married."

RELATED: Audio reveals moments after off-duty pilot allegedly tried to shut down engines of SF-bound flight

Here's the Air Traffic Control audio recording moments after off-duty pilot allegedly attempted to shut down an Alaska Airline plane's engines.

The FAA announced Thursday they are establishing a committee "to provide recommendations on breaking down barriers that prevent pilots from reporting mental health issues." The FAA's Federal Air Surgeon, Dr. Susan Northrop, released a video that said, "A mental health diagnosis is not a career-ender. We have completed clinical research and amended policy to make it much easier for pilots on a widening number of antidepressants to continue with their careers."

Emerson also told the Times, "I don't know if I'll ever fly an airplane again. I really don't." He said, "And I had a moment where that kind of became obvious. And I had to grieve that."

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