Seattle, WA – The law firm Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore (The Stritmatter Firm) has filed a class action lawsuit against Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air on behalf of the passengers aboard Alaska Airlines flight 2059 from Everett, WA to San Francisco on Sunday, October 22, 2023, operated by Alaska Airlines’ affiliate, Horizon Air.

An Alaska Airlines off-duty pilot, Joseph David Emerson, who has admitted that he did not meet federal minimum requirements for pre-flight rest and prohibiting drug abuse and was having a mental crisis, was allowed to ride in the cockpit’s “jump seat.”  After the flight reached cruising altitude, he reportedly threw off his headphones, declared he was “not OK,” and activated an emergency shutdown of the plane’s engines—nearly killing everyone on board.

Following a struggle, the on-duty flight crew revived the engines with only seconds to spare. Emerson left the cockpit and walked to the rear of the aircraft, where he tried to open the emergency exit door. Emerson is currently facing 167 counts of attempted murder and other crimes after the flight was forced to divert and landed in Portland, Oregon.

Emerson not only told the flight crew while in the air that he was not in his right mind.  He later admitted to a flight attendant that he had tried to kill everybody. After he was arrested, he told law enforcement that he had been depressed for months, had been without sleep for approximately 40 hours, and had taken psychedelic mushrooms 48 hours prior to the incident.

Pilots who ride in a cockpit jump seat may be called upon in an emergency. Prior tragedies show pilots have knowledge that can lead them to cause disasters intentionally.  However, neither Alaska Airlines nor Horizon Air has explained any effort it took shortly before Emerson boarded to question or otherwise screen him about any condition that would disqualify him from being in the cockpit at the time or piloting the aircraft in an emergency.

The Plaintiffs bring this class action lawsuit to:

  1. Compel a forthright public explanation from the involved airlines as to why they did not apply rigorous pre-flight security screening. Such preflight security screening could help identify pilots capable of sabotaging an aircraft,
  2. Compel airline accountability for the effects this incident has had upon the passengers, and lastly,
  3. Prevent future disasters caused by similar complacency and double standards as between ordinary passengers who are screened and before boarding and challenged before being allowed to sit in an exit-row. versus highly trained flight crew, any of whom may be equally likely to suffer from mental health conditions and who have the knowledge and access to initiate a mass tragedy with their bare hands.

Daniel Laurence, a seasoned aviation lawyer at The Stritmatter Firm, expressed grave concerns about the passengers’ ordeal, stating:

The airlines need a wake-up call. We understand that most pilots are heroes every day for safely operating our airliners.  But they are not immune from sleeplessness, drinking, drugs, or a mental health crisis.  Airlines are charged with the lives of passengers and, by law, have the highest duty of care. Airlines can and should take simple and reasonable steps before each flight to challenge the presumption that every pilot who shows up at the gate is rested, sober, and in the right state of mind to fly.  Emerson’s statements while in the air and shortly after his arrest show that had the airlines here done so, he would never have been allowed aboard. Our clients suffered needlessly as a result. Only luck prevented it from becoming a mass disaster.

About The Stritmatter Firm
Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore (The Stritmatter Firm) is based in Seattle, WA, and is a nationally recognized firm known for representing victims of wrongful death, serious personal injuries, and civil rights lawsuits. The legal team for this case includes Daniel Laurence and Furhad Sultani.

For media inquiries or further information about the lawsuit, please contact Kassie Seaton at 360-310-3398 or kassie@stritmatter.com.

Every case is different and results depend on their specific circumstances. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.