Alaska Airlines passengers describe off-duty pilot's demeanor, moments leading up to arrest

Joseph David Emerson is charged with 83 counts of attempted murder, officials say

BySuzanne Phan KGO logo
Tuesday, October 24, 2023
Passengers describe Bay Area pilot's demeanor leading up to arrest
Passengers who were onboard Alaska Airlines describe what led up to the off-duty pilot arrest after he allegedly tried to shut down the engines.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Alaska Flight 2059 was full, with 83 passengers on board when an off-duty pilot allegedly tried to shut down the engines.

A San Francisco couple on that flight said they are just grateful to have made it home safely.

The boyfriend, Alex Wood, was in Seat 1A -- right up front by the pilots. His girlfriend Aubrey Gavello was at the back of the plane.

"Just happy to be home, happy to be safe and I'm happy they handled it really well," said Wood.

RELATED: Off-duty pilot who tried to cut engines told police he experimented with mushrooms, complaint says

He and Gavello were returning home from a friend's wedding when police say an off-duty pilot inside the cockpit attempted to disable the aircraft engines.

Neither Wood nor Gavello ever saw or heard any commotion.

Suzanne Phan: "Did you hear anything at all that raised red flags?

Gavello: Nothing. Nothing until the flight attendant's announcement, 'we have a situation. We need to prepare for a landing'," said Gavello.

RELATED: What we know about off-duty Bay Area pilot accused of trying to shut down engines of SF-bound flight

Here's what we know about Joseph David Emerson, the pilot accused of trying to shut off the engines of an Alaska Airlines flight.

"My boyfriend was up in the front. We weren't sitting together. He slept through the entire thing. That tells you how calm it was," said Gavello.

Gavello says the announcement was made about an hour into the flight and then she saw flight attendants walk the suspect past her.

"I saw zip ties during, which was confusing because they had told us it was a medical emergency," she said.

According to Gavello, at the back of the plane, a flight attendant tried to calm the suspect telling him, "You're going to be OK."

Gavello described the suspect's demeanor. "He was tall, well kempt, had a lanyard, shirt tucked in, well put together," said Gavello.

RELATED: Audio reveals moments after off-duty pilot allegedly tried to shut down engines of SF-bound flight

Here's the Air Traffic Control audio recording moments after off-duty pilot allegedly attempted to shut down an Alaska Airline plane's engines.

"We landed, and about 10 police officers came on, armed, walked back to the plane where I'm sitting to take him and walk him off the plane. He looked dead in the eyes almost. It was almost as if he had a psychotic breakdown. Then the flight attendant got back on and told us he had a mental breakdown," she said.

Wood and Gavello both say this experience has raised some big concerns.

"With love and respect for people dealing with mental health issues, it's a scary moment for all of us. I hope he gets the help he needs. I also don't think it's OK for a pilot to do this and just be able to hop on a plane with all that is going on," said Wood.

RELATED: Expert shows how off-duty pilot was able to reach controls to shut off Alaska flight's engines

Wood says he thanked one of the pilots flying the plane and he's grateful for what the crew did.

"Props to them for keeping us safe," said Wood.

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