An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot accused of trying to crash a plane with 84 people on board is being hailed as a caring family man by shocked neighbors who live in close proximity to the suspect.
Joseph David Emerson, 44, was charged with 83 counts of attempted murder and received an additional 83 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of endangering an aircraft, police documents showed, after he allegedly tried to shut off the engines by pulling the fire extinguisher handles on a packed flight from Everett, Washington, to San Francisco, California, on Sunday.
The flight was diverted to Portland International Airport due to the incident.
“All I could tell you is he is a really nice man, and his wife Sarah is a really nice lady, and they never, ever even remotely made me think anything negative about them,” one neighbor told Daily Mail.
“He seemed to enjoy his work,” added the neighbor. “He was doing a lot of training time.”
The suspect, who was sitting in the flight deck jump seat in the cockpit, was handled by the crew and “subdued” before being handcuffed to a seat.
It was claimed he “unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines.”
Passenger Alex Wood said the pilot announced that “there was a disturbance in the cockpit,” saying they handled the ordeal very professionally and calmly.
Wood recalled how the suspect was wearing a lanyard and sweater. “Looked like an airline employee,” ABC News reported.
Another passenger, Aubrey Gavello, said of the suspect, “After we did land and the gentleman was escorted off, the flight attendant got back on the speaker and said, plain and simple, ‘He had a mental breakdown. We needed to get him off the plane immediately.'”
Neighbors of Emerson said the incident came as a shock considering they always thought highly of him.
They also had great things to say about his wife, claiming she is a caring mother and a swimming coach who taught physical education at a local community college.
“It is just really shocking, disturbing news,” said another nearby resident, Karen Yee. “They are excellent neighbors. He is a fantastic father. He plays with the kids all the time. He’s very friendly. He’s just a great guy.”
She added, “We just couldn’t imagine him doing anything to hurt someone.”