Alaska Airlines in Turbulence: Passengers Seek Accountability in Sabotage Incident
In a stunning turn of events, passengers who endured the harrowing experience on a recent flight, in which an off-duty pilot allegedly attempted to sabotage the aircraft, have taken legal action against the airline. Their class action suit, filed in King County Superior Court in Washington state, asserts that the airline breached passenger safety, and the aftermath left them grappling with emotional distress and lasting trauma.
Matthew Dolan, Theresa Stelter, and Paul Stephen, the brave plaintiffs in this case, were passengers on Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco on October 22. The flight, operated by Alaska Airlines’ affiliate Horizon Air, now finds itself entangled in this unsettling incident, with the passengers seeking justice.
The crux of the complaint centers around Joseph Emerson, an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot, who, remarkably, was allowed to travel in the cockpit’s jump seat—a seat typically reserved for pilots or crew members. As the complaint and court documents detail, during the flight, Emerson tore off his earphones and urgently informed the cockpit that he was “not OK.” The situation escalated when he allegedly attempted to crash the aircraft by activating the fire suppression system, causing the engines to shut down. This reckless act left the plane perilously close to becoming a glider.
A dramatic struggle ensued between Emerson and the flight’s pilots, who fought for control of the aircraft before Emerson abruptly exited the flight deck. The flight crew managed to restore the flow of fuel, and the flight was diverted to Portland, Oregon, averting a potential catastrophe.
Emerson’s erratic behavior didn’t end there. He made a futile attempt to open an emergency exit door at the rear of the plane, only to be thwarted by a vigilant flight attendant. Shockingly, the flight attendant reported overhearing Emerson’s chilling statements: “I messed everything up” and “tried to kill everybody,” as revealed in court documents.
Emerson faced a staggering 83 counts of attempted murder and pleaded not guilty at a court hearing in October. His attorney cited that he would never intentionally harm another person. It came to light in court documents from October that Emerson had gone without sleep for 40 hours, battled depression, and ingested hallucinogenic substances in the days leading up to the flight.
The three courageous plaintiffs are now calling for transparency and accountability. They are demanding a “forthright public explanation” regarding pre-flight security screenings from the airlines involved. They contend that robust checks could have prevented the ordeal they endured.
Daniel Laurence, an aviation lawyer at The Stritmatter Firm representing the plaintiffs, emphasized the need for heightened vigilance, stating, “The airlines need a wake-up call. We realize that the majority of pilots are everyday heroes, ensuring the safe operation of our airplanes. But they are not immune from sleeplessness, drinking, drugs, or a mental health crisis.” Laurence believed that if there had been thorough checks, Emerson could have been stopped from getting on the plane, which would have kept the passengers safe from needless suffering and a potential disaster.
Alaska Airlines responded to the lawsuit with an email statement, expressing their review of the complaint and lauding the swift response of their pilots and flight attendants in ensuring the safety of all onboard. The airline expressed immense pride and gratitude for their team’s skilled actions.
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