Joseph Emerson: What we know about the off-duty Pleasant Hill pilot who allegedly tried to shut down the engines of an Alaska Airlines flight

SAN FRANCISCO — An off-duty pilot sitting in the extra seat in the cockpit of a Horizon Air passenger plane tried to shut off the engines mid-flight and had to be subdued by the crew, according to a pilot who was flying the plane.

Oregon authorities have identified the off-duty pilot as Joseph David Emerson, 44, of Pleasant Hill.

RELATED: Alaska Airlines passengers describe the Bay Area pilot’s behavior leading up to his arrest

ABC7 News I-Team reporter Dan Noyes examined Emerson’s background to see if there were any warning signs that may have led to the close call in the cockpit.

An extensive records search revealed no criminal history, tax liens or divorce proceedings.

RELATED: Audio reveals moments after an off-duty pilot allegedly attempted to shut down the SF flight’s engines

He was born in Washington state and moved to Contra Costa County in 2008.

In April 2016, he became a pilot for Alaska Airlines.

He has a wife who teaches at Peralta Community College and two young sons. He owns his home in Pleasant Hill. On Monday, neighbors struggled to understand the incident.

RELATED: Expert reveals how an off-duty pilot managed to reach the controls to shut down the Alaska flight’s engines

“He never said anything negative about his job or anything like that,” said a neighbor.

“Yeah, he’s very understanding…we have a grandson with special needs and he’s very good to him, so we just can’t imagine him doing anything that would hurt anyone,” another neighbor said.

During the pandemic, he has been active on X, formerly known as Twitter, discussing furloughing Alaska Airlines pilots. He wrote in December 2020: “The future of air travel remains extremely bleak. Immediate relief for the aviation industry is critical.”

And one of his Facebook posts particularly impressed Noyes: “I tell my son every night: ‘Every day is another gift of this great adventure called life, good, bad, happy, sad. Everyone is equally important.’”

RELATED: The off-duty pilot attempted to take control of the flight to SF and was charged with 83 counts of attempted murder

If it is true that Emerson tried to bring down the plane on Sunday, one has to wonder how and why he lost that healthy attitude.

ABC7 News has reached out to Emerson’s family for comment but has not heard back.

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Laura Coffey

Laura Coffey is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Laura Coffey joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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