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Passengers sue Alaska airlines over off-duty pilot’s alleged mid-flight engine shutdown attempt

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Three passengers have initiated legal action against Alaska Airlines, alleging emotional distress following an incident that took place last month during a flight from Washington state to San Francisco.

The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court in Washington, accuses an off-duty pilot, Joseph David Emerson, of attempting to shut down the plane’s engines while riding in the cockpit jump seat.

The plaintiffs, San Francisco residents Matthew Doland and Theresa Stelter, along with Paul Stephen from Kenmore, Washington, argue that the airline was negligent in allowing the pilot, who was allegedly suffering from depression and sleep deprivation, access to the cockpit.

Alaska Airlines, in response to the lawsuit, released a statement expressing its commitment to reviewing the complaint. The airline praised the swift response of the flight crew to ensure the safety of all passengers onboard.

Emerson, the off-duty pilot, allegedly made a concerning statement while in the cockpit, declaring, “I’m not OK,” and attempted to engage a fire-suppression system and cut fuel to the engines. The incident prompted Flight 2059, operated by Alaska affiliate Horizon Air, to divert safely to Portland, Oregon, where Emerson was subdued by the flight crew and placed in handcuffs.

While some passengers reported a sensation akin to a “nose-dive,” others indicated they were unaware of the situation until the flight attendants announced an emergency landing necessity over the loudspeaker.

The lawsuit claims that the plaintiffs have suffered emotional distress, including anxiety, insomnia, and a fear of flying, as a result of the incident. Furthermore, it seeks class-action status on behalf of other affected passengers, arguing that the airline failed to uphold the highest duty of care by permitting Emerson’s presence in the cockpit.

Aviation lawyer Daniel Laurence, representing the plaintiffs, emphasized the need for airlines to take reasonable precautions to ensure that pilots are fit to fly before each flight. Emerson faces attempted murder charges in Oregon state court and is set for arraignment on a federal charge of interfering with a flight crew.

The Federal Aviation Administration has clarified that the incident is not connected to any global events or terrorism. However, investigators are delving into Emerson’s background, including his social media, computers, and phones, to uncover any potential triggers for the alarming mid-flight actions.

According to court documents, Emerson admitted to consuming “magic mushrooms” approximately 48 hours before the incident, claiming he believed he was in a dream and wanted to wake up. The situation serves as a reminder of the complex challenges faced by airlines in ensuring the mental and emotional fitness of their flight crews.

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