Joseph Emerson, the off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who tried to shut down a plane’s engines mid-flight after taking magic mushrooms, said he felt as though he was trapped in a dream and wondered if he was in hell.
In a New York Times interview from his jail cell in Portland, Oregon, the 44-year-old revealed that he took the mushrooms while sitting around a campfire two days prior to the incident, which took place on October 22.
“I thought a lot of traumatic things in that time where I was like, ‘Am I dead? Is this hell?’ I’m reliving that trauma,” he said.
Emerson claims he believed he was dreaming and wanted to wake up.
In the interview, he recalled sitting in the jump seat of the cockpit when he activated a fire suppression system and tried to shut down the engines on the plane.
He claimed that he believed he was still inside a dream at the time and that by crashing the plane, he would be able to wake up.
“I thought it would stop both engines, the plane would start to head towards a crash, and I would wake up.”
Joseph Emerson will potentially spend the rest of his life behind bars.
After the on-duty pilots wrestled him away from the controls, the plane made an emergency landing in Portland, where Emerson was arrested.
He’s being held without bail and has been charged with 83 counts of attempted murder — one for every single passenger and crew member on board at the time of his actions.
However, it seems there may be some legitimacy to the claims he’s made, as the NYT corroborated details he relayed in his story to what witnesses and colleagues told police, as well as text messages between himself and his wife before and after the incident.
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Emerson has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
Emerson insists that he never meant to hurt anyone and that instead, he simply had a bad trip after taking mushrooms with friends to commemorate the death of his best friend.
The loss of his friend triggered a serious mental health issue that made Emerson want to seek help, but he worried that doing so would negatively impact his career. The FAA has always grounded pilots with mental health issues, and going to a therapist or taking antidepressants would see him suspended.