Deadheading Pilot Tries to Douse Engines in Flight

The FAA says an Alaska Airlines pilot flying in the jumpseat of an Embraer E175 on Sunday tried to disable the engines on the aircraft by attempting to set off the fire extinguishers on both. The flight, operating as a Horizon Air service, was headed from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco and diverted to Portland. According to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Portland, Joseph David Emerson, 44, has now been charged with 83 counts each of attempted murder and reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft.

According to the Seattle Times, the FAA issued an alert on its Domestic Events Network, which is distributed to airlines, that a pilot passenger tried “to disable aircraft engines while at cruise altitude by deploying the engine fire suppression system.” To fully activate each system, a ceiling-mounted handle must be first pulled down. This cuts off fuel, electrical power and hydraulics to the engine. Twisting the handle then releases halon gas inside the engine to smother a fire.

It’s not clear at which point the pilots intervened, but there was no power loss according to the airline. “Fortunately some residual fuel remains in the line, and the quick reaction of our crew to reset the handles restored fuel flow and prevented fuel starvation,” Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Alexa Rudin told the Times. The FAA said the crew was then able to subdue the jumpseat passenger and get him out of the flight deck.

The story began making the rounds in social media late Sunday with a LiveATC clip (go to about 10:30) that captured a brief conversation between the captain and air traffic control after things had settled down. As the controller was directing the E175 to Portland for an emergency landing, he asked the crew about the “threat level” onboard. “I’ll just give you a heads-up. We’ve got the guy that tried to shut the engines down out of the cockpit,” a pilot told the controller. “It doesn’t seem like he’s causing any issue at the back. I think he’s subdued. Other than that, we want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked.”

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on AVweb.com.


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