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Attempted murder charges dropped against pilot who tried to cut engines

Joseph Emerson, left, is arraigned in Portland in October (AP)
Joseph Emerson, left, is arraigned in Portland in October (AP)

The former Alaska Airlines pilot accused of trying to cut the engines of a Horizon Air flight has been indicted on 84 endangerment charges, but is no longer charged with attempted murder, authorities in Oregon said on Tuesday.

Joseph Emerson is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday on 83 charges of recklessly endangering another person — for each person on the plane — and one charge of endangering an aircraft.

He previously pleaded not guilty to attempted murder charges filed by state prosecutors and to a federal charge of interfering with a flight crew.

Emerson’s defence lawyers welcomed the grand jury’s decision.

“The attempted murder charges were never appropriate in this case because Captain Emerson never intended to hurt another person or put anyone at risk – he just wanted to return home to his wife and children,” his defence lawyers Ethan Levi, Noah Horst and Norah Van Dusen said in a statement. “Simply put: Captain Emerson thought he was in a dream.”

Prosecutors have accused Emerson of trying to cut the engines on the October 22 flight from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco while riding in the extra seat in the cockpit.

The FBI said in an affidavit that after a brief struggle, Emerson left the cockpit and flight attendants placed him in wrist restraints and seated him in the rear of the aircraft which was diverted to Portland.

According to charging documents, Emerson told Port of Portland police he had been struggling with depression, that a friend had recently died and that he had taken psychedelic mushrooms about 48 hours before he attempted to cut the engines. He also said he had not slept in more than 40 hours.

Emerson remains in custody in Multnomah County, Oregon.