PORTLAND, Ore. (KATU) — The off-duty pilot facing 83 attempted murder charges after he allegedly tried to shut off the engines of a plane mid-flight admitted to taking psychedelic mushrooms two days beforehand, new arrest documents claim.
Joseph David Emerson, 44, was riding in the cockpit of the plane as an authorized occupant on Sunday evening when he unsuccessfully tried to disrupt the engines about halfway between Astoria and Portland, according to a probable cause affidavit.
On Tuesday, he appeared in a Multnomah County courtroom on 83 counts of attempted murder, and a single count of endangering an aircraft. His attorney entered a plea of not guilty.
In the official criminal complaint, Emerson is stated to have been sitting in the cockpit’s jumpseat when, after chatting with pilots for several minutes, suddenly said “I’m not okay,” before pulling the handles of the fire suppression system, which are used to stop engine fires and shut off fuel to the engines.
One of the pilots grabbed Emerson while the other declared an inflight emergency. He initially resisted, but records say Emerson settled down after a roughly 30-second struggle.
The court documents state Emerson wasn’t able to fully pull down the handles and fully shut off the engines. If he had, “then it would have shut down the hydraulics and the fuel to the engines, turning the aircraft into a glider within seconds.”
Witnesses said Emerson peacefully walked to the back of the plane, and once seated in the back he reportedly told a flight attendant, “You need to cuff me right now or it’s going to be bad.” They put his wrists in a pair of flex cuffs.
Once the airplane made an emergency landing at the Portland International Airport, Port of Portland Police put Emerson under arrest.
During a police interview, Emerson said he was having “a nervous breakdown,” hadn’t slept for 40 hours, and felt dehydrated and tired. He admitted to pulling the handles and said he did it because “I thought I was dreaming and I just wanna wake up.”
Emerson said he had taken “magic mushrooms” about 48 hours before the incident. He told police he’d been struggling with depression for six months and that one of his friends recently died.
“The officer and Emerson talked about the use of psychedelic mushrooms and Emerson said it was his first time taking mushrooms,” a probable cause document said.
One of the officers in the interview said that Emerson didn’t outwardly look like he was under the influence.
When asked if he was trying to kill himself, Emerson did not answer the officer’s question, and instead reiterated that he was “trying to wake up and did not feel like ‘this was real,’ though it felt real now,” a probable cause document said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office – District of Oregon said Emerson is also facing a federal charge of interfering with flight crew members and attendants.
In the documents, arresting officers stated that at one point Emerson said that he “tried to kill everybody.”
The state is trying to hold Emerson without bail. By law, he can request to have the preventative detention hearing within five days.
A Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson confirmed that Emerson self-reported he felt suicidal and was placed on a suicide watch shortly after being booked into the county jail early Monday morning.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office said the remaining 83 charges of Reckless Endangering that Emerson faces will go to a grand jury.