Three passengers have sued Alaska Airlines over an incident last month in which an off-duty pilot attempted to shut down the plane’s engines.
The passengers – who were on board Horizon Air Flight 2059, an Alaska Airlines affiliate – are claiming they suffered emotional distress after Alaska Airlines pilot Joseph David Emerson, 44, allegedly tried to pull two handles that would have engaged a fire-suppression system and cut fuel to the engines, according to the Associated Press, citing charging documents filed Thursday in Washington state.
Emerson was riding in the jump seat, an extra seat in the cockpit, when he suddenly said, “I’m not OK” and tried to pull two handles, authorities have said in charging documents.
The plane had been traveling from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco on Octoner 22 but was diverted and landed safely in Portland, Oregon. Emerson ended up being restrained by members of the cabin crew and was arrested after the flight touched down.
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The Alaska Airlines flight was operated by the group’s regional subsidiary Horizon Air. Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air are owned by Alaska Air Group.
In Thursday’s class action lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, the three passengers alleged that the Emerson should never have been allowed in the cockpit, because he was suffering from depression and a lack of sleep.
They claimed the plane experienced “what felt like a nose-dive,” though some passengers quoted in news accounts have not described any such thing.
The plaintiffs, Matthew Doland, Theresa Stelter and Paul Stephen, claim they have suffered from anxiety, insomnia, fear of flying and other emotional effects as a result of the incident.
The lawsuit is seeking special and general damages in amounts to be proved at a trial, including ticket fees, damages for psychological injury, physical pain and suffering among other things, according to Reuters.
The suit also seeks injunctive relief mandating Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air to conduct examinations of all anticipated flight crew and jump seat passengers, including their mental health status.
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Emerson has already pleaded not guilty in a Multnomah County, Oregon, to state-level charges, including 83 counts of attempted murder, 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft.
In a court document from October, Emerson said he had taken “magic mushrooms” two days before the alleged incident, hadn’t slept for 40 hours and had been suffering from depression.
He told investigators in the aftermath of the midair scare that he had thought he was dreaming and had wanted to wake up, an Oregon prosecutor said in an affidavit.
Daniel Laurence, an aviation lawyer at The Stritmatter Firm, which is representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement that his clients are seeking forthright public explanation from the involved airlines as to why they did not apply rigorous pre-flight security screening.
Such preflight security screening, he said, could help identify pilots capable of sabotaging an aircraft.
“The airlines need a wake-up call,” Laurence said. “We understand that most pilots are heroes every day for safely operating our airliners, but they are not immune from sleeplessness, drinking, drugs or a mental health crisis.”
“Emerson’s statements while in the air and shortly after his arrest show that, had the airlines here done so, he would never have been allowed aboard. Our clients suffered needlessly as a result. Only luck prevented it from becoming a mass disaster.”
Alaska Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Fox News Digital.
The airline released a statement on October 24, two days after the incident, stating that at no time during the check-in or boarding process did its gate agents or flight crew observe any signs of impairment that would have led them to prevent Emerson from flying on Flight 2059.
The airline said that all passengers were able to finish their trip to California on another flight with a new crew.
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