Pleasant Hill pilot to make 1st court appearance in Portland on attempted murder charges

The off-duty Pleasant Hill pilot charged with more than 80 counts of attempted murder pleaded not guilty during his arraignment in court Tuesday after authorities said he tried to shut off the engines on a plane bound for San Francisco this weekend.

Joseph David Emerson, 44, appeared for the first time in Multnomah County Superior Court in Portland, Oregon. It's possible he could also face additional federal charges as the FBI is investigating what happened on Sunday on Alaska Airlines Flight 2059. 

Emerson had been sitting Sunday evening in the flight deck jump seat – a spot in the cockpit reserved for people not flying the plane – when Alaska Airlines officials said he tried to shut down the plane's engines by trying to deactivate the fire suppression system.

A Federal Aviation Administration notice distributed to all U.S. airlines on an alert network called what happened a "significant security event."

Ultimately, Alaska Air Group officials said that Emerson did not succeed in disrupting the plane's engines and power was never lost.

The captain of the plane and the first officer were able to respond quickly, Alaska Airlines said in a statement, and they were able to "reset the T -handles" to make sure that the fuel was never shut off. 

The plane, which took off from Everett, Wash., ended up landing at Portland International Airport about 6:30 p.m. that day. The plane was supposed to have landed in San Francisco.

None of the 80 or so passengers were injured and all were able to get on different planes, Alaska Air Group said. 

When the plane landed, the FBI and the Port of Portland Police Department both began investigating.

Emerson was booked into the Multnomah County Jail early Monday morning and is being held without bail on 167 charges, including 83 counts of felony attempted murder. 

Attempts to reach Emerson were not immediately successful, and none of his family members responded for comment.

A motive for why Emerson would have allegedly tried to do this has not yet been revealed. 

Jessica Verrilli wrote on social media that she was a passenger on the plane with her two kids.

She wrote that there was announcement of a "medical emergency" on the plane, but no doctor was called. 

Then, she said she saw four police officers take the jump seat pilot away in handcuffs and she also heard something about a "disturbance in the cockpit" and a "mental breakdown."  

Pleasant Hill pilot Joseph Emerson in his Twitter profile. 

Aubrey Gavello, who works in San Francisco, was also a passenger on that plane. She said she saw Emerson walking down the aisle by himself from the cockpit to the back of the plane.

"It didn't even raise any flags," she said. "Just seemed composed and normal, nothing out of the ordinary."

Emerson's neighbors said they were shocked. 

Emerson appeared to be a good family man, they said. 

Ed Yee said his grandchildren have played with Emerson's two children before and that they all seemed very pleasant.

"Nice people as far as I could tell," Yee said. "I see Joe all the time working in the garage or doing something I’d go over and talk with him."

Yee said this all sounded very out of character for Emerson.

"He didn’t talk about his job much, but he loved from what I could tell, being a pilot and getting new training, just enjoying his job."

Patrick Aligawesa also lives near Emerson.

He told KTVU that when he heard the news, he ws "like what? We still doubt it, I mean is he the real guy?" 

Emerson coaches a youth baseball team in Pleasant Hill and teaches flying lessons at Buchanan Field Airport in Concord. 

Emerson joined Alaska Air Group as a Horizon First Officer in August 2001, according to Alaska Air Group. 

In June 2012, Emerson left Horizon to join Virgin America as a pilot. 

Emerson became an Alaska Airlines First Officer following Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin America in 2016. He became an Alaska Airlines Captain in 2019. 

Throughout his career, Alaska Airlines said Emerson completed his mandated FAA medical certifications in accordance with regulatory requirements, and at no point were his certifications denied, suspended or revoked. 

This story was reported in Oakland, Calif.