Your captain today, Bob, is fighting off a suicidal lunatic

The tale of the crazed off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot who attempted to crash a jet on which he was flying as a passenger Sunday evening is mightily disturbing. Let's hope he never gets anywhere near the controls of another plane, at the very least. Whether they'll make criminal charges stick is another matter. "I was depressed, I hadn't slept, I was dehydrated, I took mushrooms a couple of days before"; he may wind up getting a slap on the wrist. 

He's being charged right here in Portland, where the plane landed after the emergency was declared, and the county D.A., You-Know-Who, is in charge of some of the prosecution. That's almost always good news for the defense attorneys. Fortunately, federal charges are also forthcoming, and so there's at least a chance that sound prosecutorial decisions might be made.

A bigger question is why the bad guy, Joseph Emerson, was in the cockpit to begin with. After 9/11, I thought the cockpit door was supposed to be an impermeable barrier between crazy people and the flight controls. They tell you, don't even stand next to it waiting for the bathroom. But I guess there's an extra seat in the cockpit, and when the airlines are shuttling pilots to and from their duties, those pilots get to sit in that jump seat.

Part of me thinks that shouldn't be allowed – that off-duty pilots, really anybody but the actual pilots of the flight, belong in the back with the peons. But another part of me thinks that maybe it's not such a bad idea to seat the off-duty operators behind the locked door. For example, imagine what would have happened if one of the actual pilots had flipped out and gone suicidal. I guess it would be better to have two sane people up there tackling him than to have a single sane guy going one-on-one trying to subdue him. But wow, what a way to run an airline.

Anyway, thank God no one was physically hurt, although I'm sure the flight attendants and passengers suffered a fair amount of mental trauma. The guy reportedly even tried to open the emergency door while the plane was in the air. It was one of those 76-seat planes operated by Alaska's subsidiary, Horizon Air, and so it was probably hard for anyone on board to miss that something really bad was going on.

I'm not a big one on prayers, but I occasionally lift up a short one to Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. He probably heard a few from any Catholics on that flight. 

Now, there's a guy with a proven track record. If he exists and can help, I'm not above asking. You never know.


  1. The cockpit “jump seat” may get a lot of conversation. Hopefully, it doesn’t crowd out the important issue of flight crew mental health evaluation.

    1. I see the pilots say they're afraid to see a shrink because it might cost them their license.

  2. Another fine endorsement for the use of Psilocybin as a therapeutic.

  3. What else was he taking? Long-term use of anti-depression meds (which don't work) can cause people to go bonkers very easily. Thousands of cases yearly. But hey, you got some worries- here is your prescription.

  4. OK no more pilots in the cockpit. Period.


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