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After a pilot tried to bring a plane down, what exactly are the rules and risks around jump seats on flights?


A 44-year-old pilot, Captain Joseph David Emerson, is in custody in Portland, Oregon facing 83 counts each of attempted murder and reckless endangerment as well as a charge of endangering an aircraft.

On 22 October 2023 Captain Emerson was travelling off-duty in the “jump seat” on the flight deck of a Horizon Air jet flying from Everett, north of Seattle, to San Francisco.

He is accused of trying to disable both engines by deploying the engine fire-suppression system on the plane.

The incident highlights the use of “jump seats” on aircraft – and the wider issue of pilots deliberately putting passengers and crew at risk.

What happened to Horizon Air flight 2059?

Eighty passengers and four crew members were on board the Embraer 175 aircraft. As the plane was approaching Salem at a cruising altitude of 31,000 feet, he tried to shut down the engines.

The crew managed to subdue Captain Emerson and move him out of the flight deck, which was then locked in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules. The aircraft diverted to Portland, with the pilots telling air-traffic controllers: “We want law enforcement as soon as we get on the ground and parked.” Mr Emerson was arrested, while passengers continued to San Francisco on a different plane. The original aircraft is now back in service.

Horizon Air is owned by Alaska Airlines, which said in a statement: “Captain Emerson unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines. The Horizon captain and first officer quickly responded, and the crew secured the aircraft without incident.

“Engine power was not lost despite the off-duty pilot’s attempt to shut down the engines by engaging the engine fire handle, also known as the fire suppression system.

“The fire suppression system consists of a T-handle for each engine. If the T-handle is fully deployed, a valve in the wing closes to shut off fuel to the engine. In this case, the quick reaction of our crew to reset the T-handles ensured engine power was not lost.

“Our crew responded without hesitation to a difficult and highly unusual situation, and we are incredibly proud and grateful for their skilful actions.

“Following appropriate FAA procedures and guidance from Air Traffic Control, the flight was safely diverted to Portland.

“Throughout his career, Emerson completed his mandated FAA medical…

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