Former pilot Joseph Emerson released and allowed back home to Bay Area

3 mins read

The 44-year-old former pilot has been granted freedom from custody in Oregon. 

A federal judge and a Multnomah County judge allowed Joseph Emerson to return home to the Bay Area. 

The judges’ rulings were made with several release conditions, including: Do not fly home and do not use “magic mushrooms.” 

Emerson’s wife, Sarah, agreed to drive him home to Pleasant Hill. 

“We’re so excited. My kids are really happy. We want to have dad back. He’s happy to be able to come home. And yes, he’s doing well,” Sarah Stretch told press in Oregon. “I married him because he was sensitive and caring and kind.”

“He deserves to be home,” Stretch added.

On October 22, Emerson was on a flight heading to the Bay Area from Washington. He was off-duty and was sitting on one of the cockpit’s extra seats when he tried to cut off the jet’s engine fuel mid-flight. 

According to prosecutors, Horizon Air Flight AS 2059 was “seconds away” from becoming a glider. 

Emerson later told police he thought he was dreaming and was trying to wake up. He also admitted to trying psychedelic mushrooms for the first time 48 hours before the flight. 

“Emerson indicated he was in a mental crisis and had not slept in over 40 hours,” police wrote.

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office initially filed 83 counts of felony second-degree attempted murder against Emerson, but the grand jury handed down an indictment without any attempted murder charges. 

“The attempted murder charges were never appropriate in this case because Captain Emerson never intended to hurt another person or put anyone at risk – he just wanted to return home to his wife and children,” his defense lawyers Ethan Levi, Noah Horst and Norah Van Dusen said in a statement. “Simply put: Captain Emerson thought he was in a dream.”

Emerson was arraigned Thursday on 83 charges of recklessly endangering another person — for each person who was on the plane.

Emerson’s release comes with several conditions. According to reports, Emerson cannot possess or use any controlled substances, including “magic mushrooms,” is not allowed 30 feet of any operable aircraft and must participate in mental health counseling. 

He also posted $50,000 bail. 

During the interrogation, Emerson admitted he struggled with depression for six years and that his best friend had recently passed away. 

His defense attorneys told reporters on Thursday, “Does he need help? Yes. Does there need to be change in the airline industry? Yes, absolutely.”


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.