Seattle, Wash. — Three passengers have filed a lawsuit against Alaska Airlines, alleging emotional distress stemming from an incident last month involving an off-duty pilot’s attempt to manipulate the plane’s engines while riding in the cockpit.
The complaint, filed in King County Superior Court in Washington state, involves San Francisco residents Matthew Doland and Theresa Stelter, along with Paul Stephen of Kenmore, Washington. They claimed the off-duty pilot, identified as Joseph David Emerson, should not have been permitted in the cockpit due to alleged issues related to depression and sleep deprivation.
Alaska Airlines responded by stating they are reviewing the complaint and highlighted the swift response of the pilots and flight attendants on Flight 2059 to ensure passenger safety, expressing pride and gratitude for their actions.
The incident occurred when Emerson, riding in the jump seat of the cockpit, abruptly expressed distress and attempted to engage the fire-suppression system and cut off fuel to the engines, according to authorities. The flight, operated by Alaska affiliate Horizon Air, safely diverted to Portland, Oregon, after the pilots swiftly subdued Emerson, who was voluntarily restrained on the plane.
The lawsuit claims that passengers experienced emotional distress, including anxiety and fear of flying, as a result of the incident. It seeks class-action status and alleges the airline failed in its duty of care to passengers by allowing Emerson in the cockpit.
Representatives from The Stritmatter Firm, serving as the plaintiffs’ legal counsel, stated that airlines should take reasonable steps to ensure pilots are fit to fly, highlighting that Emerson’s statements during and after the incident suggest he shouldn’t have been allowed on board. Emerson has entered a plea of not guilty to attempted murder charges in Oregon state court and is facing a federal charge of interfering with a flight crew.
While it is customary for off-duty pilots to occupy jump seats, such occurrences are rare, with these pilots occasionally offering assistance in emergencies.