‘This is not my Joe’: Wife defends off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who tried to disable jet

Two men wearing blue stand side-by-side in court
Joseph Emerson, left, 44, stands with his lawyer, Ethan Levi, during his arraignment in Portland, Ore., on Thursday after allegedly trying to disable a jet airliner in midflight. His wife defended Emerson, saying this is not the kind of thing her husband would do.
(Dave Killen / The Oregonian)
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The wife of the Alaska Airlines pilot accused of attempting to shut down the engines on a plane flying from Seattle to San Francisco said the husband she knew would not commit the alleged crime, according to local outlets.

“This is not my Joe. This is not any Joe that anybody knows,” said Sarah Stretch, the wife of longtime Alaska Airlines pilot Joseph Emerson, according to Oregon Live. “I can’t explain it but it just wasn’t him.”

Stretch’s comments came Thursday after Emerson had his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Portland. His attorneys did not immediately seek Emerson’s release and he was ordered held pending a trial.


Emerson was off duty and flying in the cockpit “jump seat” on a Horizon Airlines flight from Seattle to San Francisco on Sunday when he suddenly told the two on-duty pilots, “I am not OK,” according to federal prosecutors.

The pilot was aboard a Horizon Airlines flight from Seattle to San Francisco when he tried to take over the aircraft, the airline said. He was booked on 83 counts of attempted murder.

Oct. 23, 2023

Emerson grabbed the plane’s red fire emergency handles, which are used to put out engine fires and shut down fuel to the engines, according to prosecutors. The two pilots wrestled with Emerson and were able to get him out of the cockpit. He was cuffed by flight attendants and the plane made an emergency landing in Portland, where Emerson was arrested.

Emerson told investigators that he had taken psychedelic mushrooms about 48 hours prior to the flight and that he was suffering from depression for the last six months, according to court documents. He also said he had not slept in 40 hours.

Emerson’s attorney thanked the crew on the flight for their “timely and heroic actions,” according to Oregon Live.

“Mr. Emerson did not intend to harm himself or any other person,” his attorney, Ethan Levi, told reporters after court. “He was not suicidal or homicidal.”

During his court appearance, Emerson turned to his family and whispered, “I love you,” according to Oregon Live.


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