An off-duty pilot who was authorized to be in the flight deck of an Alaska Airlines flight to San Francisco on Sunday night reportedly attempted to shut down the airplane’s engines mid-flight and had to be ‘subdued’ as the two operating pilots made an emergency diversion to Portland where the flight was met by law enforcement.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines confirmed that the crew of flight AS-2059 reported a “credible security threat” which involved somebody who was authorized to be in the flight deck.
Off-duty pilots who are commuting on standby are often allowed to ride on a cockpit jumpseat if there are no passenger seats left in the cabin. Flight deck ‘jumpseaters,’ as they are known, are security vetted and are normally serving airline crew members.
Alaska Airlines flight 2059 departed Seattle Paine Field Airport at around 5:30 pm on Sunday for what should have been a routine two-hour flight down to northern California.
The flight, which was operated on behalf of Alaska Airlines by Horizon Air on an Embraer E75 regional jet, immediately diverted to Portland following the incident, and the suspect was taken into police custody.
In a recording of air traffic control communication between the pilots and ground controllers, one of the pilots explains: “Just to give you a heads up, we’ve got the guy who tried to shut the engines down, out of the cockpit, and he doesn’t sound like he’s causing any issue in the back right now… I think he’s subdued.”
“Other than that, we want law enforcement as soon as we’re on the ground and parked”.
The airline said the crew managed to secure the aircraft without incident.
“Following appropriate FAA procedures and guidance from air traffic control, the flight safely diverted to Portland International Airport,” a statement from the airline continued.
“The event is being investigated by law enforcement authorities.”
The spokesperson noted that all of the passengers were still able to travel to San Francisco on a later flight. “We are grateful for the professional handling of the situation by the Horizon flight crew and appreciate our guests’ calm and patience throughout this event,” the statement concluded.
Although policies differ from country to country and airline to airline, in the U.S., it’s normal for at least two people to be on the flight deck at any one time. In the event that a pilot needs to step out of the cockpit mid-flight to use the lavatory, a flight attendant will normally wait in the flight deck until they return.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.