The Alaska Airlines pilot who tried to shut off the engines from a flight deck jumpseat says his earlier consumption of magic mushrooms triggered deep-seated mental issues that put him in a dream-like state. In an exclusive interview with the New York Times, Joseph Emerson, who was the safety representative for Alaska’s San Francisco-based pilots, said he tried to deploy the engine fire suppression systems for both engines on the E175 to snap out of the hallucinogenic state. “I thought it would stop both engines, the plane would start to head towards a crash, and I would wake up,” he told the Times.
Instead, the on-duty pilots flying the plane wrenched his hands from the ceiling-mounted handles and restored fuel flow before the engines were affected. Emerson ran out of the flight deck and essentially surrendered to flight attendants who put his hands in plastic restraints. Emerson said he was profoundly affected by the death of his closest friend and was at a memorial weekend getaway for him when he sampled the mushrooms. He’d not been feeling like himself after the friend’s death but avoided discussing his potential depression for fear of losing his flight privileges. He’s now being held without bail on 83 counts of attempted murder, one for each of the people on the plane.
His interview came as the FAA and Congress are discussing pilot mental health and ways to allow pilots who suspect they need help to do so without catastrophic career consequences. As we reported Thursday, the FAA is establishing a Pilot Mental Health Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to deal with the issue. For his part, Emerson told the Times he will be open and transparent as his case grinds through the courts, fully aware that his promising aviation career is likely over and he said he was horrified at the risk he put himself and the others on the plane through.“That crew got dealt a situation there’s no manual, checklist or procedure that’s been written for,” he said. “And they did an exemplary job keeping me and the rest of the people on that plane safe.”
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