A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
News: Aviation incidents
This webpage has a chronological list of selected aviation-related laser pointer incidents. We also have news pages for non-aviation incidents, and for all other laser pointer news (includes overall statistics about incidents, new laws and regulations, and safety warnings and publications). In addition, the What’s new at the website page lists major changes, updates, and additions to LaserPointerSafety.com.
We sometimes add older news items; since the list is chronological, items new to this page won’t always appear at the top. You may want to scroll down to see if there are new items since the last time you visited.
A spokesperson said the crew was "safe" and the operation involved the "apprehension of violent offenders."
It was not clear if the offenders were using the laser, or if that was a separate operation of the helicopter.
Devon Live reported there were 50 laser attacks on NPAS crews in 2018.
From Devon Live
He told officers that he aimed the green laser light at the aircraft to see how far it would reach. He said he did not know how serious a hazard the laser was to aircraft.
Officers confiscated the laser, which had been purchased online. A photo shows it to be a "Laser 303" which is a certain type of handheld laser form factor.
Photo by the Ferndale Police Department
During the disorder, young teens threw dozens of petrol bombs, paint bombs, bricks and bottles at police patrols, and burned a barricade. It was the third night of the incidents when the PSNI helicopter was targeted.
From ITV News, Derry Journal
At 11:30 pm on August 13 Jet2 flight LS274, a Boeing 737-36N arriving from Alicante, reported seeing a laser said to be four miles from the runway. At 12:48 am on August 14 Jet2 flight LS250, a Boeing 737-8K2 arriving from Fuerteventura, reported a laser at a location 5 1/2 miles from the runway.
It is not known if the two laser beams came from one site which was judged to be at different distances, from a single source which moved from one location to another, or from two independent sources.
After West Yorkshire Police were notified, a National Police Air Service helicopter was dispatched to escort incoming flights. No further laser incidents were reported.
Ward cauncillor Graham Latty said "It’s a dreadful risk trying to bring a plane down, especially as Leeds-Bradford is in a domestic setting, with houses on three sides. People who would do that clearly don’t know what they’re doing. and as a councillor, and a human being, I find it ridiculous and disgusting…. It just shows, quite frankly, the depths people will go to. They haven’t got any brains."
A UK Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson said: “Anyone convicted of shining a laser at an aircraft could face a significant fine or even prison. We strongly urge anyone who sees lasers being used in the vicinity of an airport to contact the police immediately.”
From the Yorkshire Evening Post, Examiner Live and Wharfdale Observer. Flight data from Flightradar24.
From Fox San Antonio
According to the Regina's captain, the aircrew had been wearing protective safety lenses "just in case."
The exact date of the incident was not reported but came sometime in mid- to late June 2019.
A report by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said the laser came from a tanker, and that "there was no obvious link between alleged attacks [to U.S. aircraft in the South China Sea and near Djibouti] and the laser that was aimed at Canada's surveillance helicopter."
A CBC News article a day earlier said Canadian military "reported that someone on board a Chinese fishing boat pointed a laser at a Canadian CH-148 Cyclone helicopter operating near the Strait of Taiwan recently. No one was injured in that incident and there no was damage to the aircraft. It is unclear whether fishing vessel was part of the People's Armed Forces Maritime Militia, which operates a host of civilian vessels in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea."
It is not known if these were two separate incidents, or if there was a single laser incident with some confusion over whether the source was a tanker or a fishing boat.
From the Canadian Global Affairs Institute via The Maritime Executive, and CBC News
The flight continued to Orlando's airport and landed about 15 minutes after the incident.
At FAA's request, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office was asked to investigate a possible location for the laser. Deputies found a house with a bright green porch light, but the residents said they did not own a laser pointer.
The pilot was referred for medical examination, as per WestJet's standard operating procedure.
WestJet released a statement: "Laser incidents pose a serious concern to crew and aircraft safety and have serious repercussions for those found to be shining lasers in a manner that could result in injury or damage. These incidents are reported immediately to local authorities for further investigation. Pilots are extremely focused during all phases of flight, but especially during take-off and landing, when most laser incidents occur. When any sort of light enters the flight deck, pilots are trained to look away and maintain focus but they must also maintain vigilant with respect to their surroundings and monitor the apron prior to landing. Pilots take on an incredible responsibility controlling an aircraft, and it is WestJet’s duty to ensure a safe work environment for them to operate in. Any pilot who reports being struck by a laser is required for safety and health reasons to have an ophthalmology evaluation."
From the Aviation Voice, WESH.com, News965.com, and ClickOrlando.com
COMMENTARY FROM LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM
It is almost a certainty that the pilot's eyes were not burned by the laser exposure. A laser beam that traveled 10,000 feet would have to be extraordinarily powerful to even potentially cause an eye injury.
Laser beams spread out with distance. At 10,000 feet a laser beam would expand to be at least three feet wide. Only a fraction of the beam power would go through the pupil of the pilot's eye. (In fact, of the original laser irradiance, only 0.003 percent would go through the pilot's pupil.)
What power would it take? A 190 watt laser with a very narrow 1 milliradian beam has a Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance of about 10,000 feet. This means the laser light is generally considered safe after the NOHD distance. This does not mean that just inside the NOHD there would be an injury. Laser safety standards have a built in "safety factor" or "reduction factor."
To have a 50/50 chance of causing the smallest medically detectable eye injury at a distance of 10,000 feet, the laser would have to be about 1,900 watts at a 1 mrad divergence.
By comparison, the most powerful handheld lasers currently available are in the 3 watt range with claimed wattage (not confirmed) up to about 6 watts. Most laser pointers used in incidents are less than 1 watt.
It may be that someone aimed a non-handheld, plug-in-the-wall laser beam at the pilot. Even here, 190 to 1,900 watts is fairly powerful. There are some industrial and research lasers much more powerful than this, but to the best of our knowledge the only non-handheld lasers involved in aircraft lasings have been from laser light shows. For such shows, 60 to 80 watts is about the most powerful from a single laser source. There were no reported outdoor laser light shows the night of the WestJet incident.
Some news articles gave an impression that, because the pilot's eyes were burned, he or she went for a medical examination. But as explained above, this is routine policy. WestJet requires "any pilot who reports being struck by a laser … to have an ophthalmology evaluation."
It could be that the pilot had an eye effect, such as irritation from the bright flash of light, or that the pilot rubbed his or her eyes so hard that they scratched their cornea — a painful condition which heals.
For more information
More information about laser eye effects on pilots is here. A quick summary is that 1) there have been no proven or documented eye injuries to pilots according to U.S. FAA, U.K. CAA and Transport Canada, and 2) top laser safety experts have written that "There is no evidence to suggest that lasers pointed at airplane cockpits damage pilots’ eyesight."
A table listing eye effects and incidents reported to U.S. FAA in past years is on the laser/aircraft incident statistics page.
The aircraft was on routine patrol when it was illuminated by laser light from an apartment balcony. Ground officers were directed to a high-rise condo where they found Vladamir Altman. He told officers he was the person who aimed at the helicopter.
The aircraft was flying in southern Scotland between Newcastle and Prestwick and was over Sanquhar when it was illuminated by the laser light. At the time, police described the action as "extremely reckless" and said it could have had "catastrophic consequences" for the aircraft.
From the Cumnock Chronicle and BBC News
Alan Whiteside referred to incidents which occurred over an eight-day period: “Five recent incidents in the Glengormley, Cloughfern, Newtownabbey, Jordanstown and North Shore areas are five too many."
He said "These actions are irresponsible and potentially life threatening. Aircraft crew are responsible for the lives of every passenger on board and any disruption to cockpit operations is simply unacceptable. Those who point laser pens at aircraft need to be apprehended and processed through the courts."
From the Belfast International Airport blog and the Belfast Telegraph
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police searched for, but did not find, a suspect.
From Global News
On March 9 2019 the helicopter was searching for a car that had eluded a police stop, when it was repeatedly illuminated by green laser light. The search was abandoned so the helicopter could locate the laser suspect.
Ground units arrested David Gill of Leeds.
At trial he pleaded not guilty, but was convicted of endangering the safety of an aircraft.
From the Daily Mail
In addition to the aircraft illumination, Eugene L. Robinson also aimed green laser light at police helicopters during the same night. He was indicted on four counts of interfering with the operation of an aircraft, and pleaded guilty to the Southwest illumination.
Robinson had purchased the laser for $20 and aimed it at the aircraft to see how far it would go. He called it "a boneheaded mistake … I wasn't trying to hurt anybody."
In addition to the jail time and probation, Robinson is required to make a public service announcement telling viewers not to aim laser pointers at aircraft.
From the Columbus Dispatch
HOUSTON – A 20-year-old Houston man has entered a guilty plea to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
Bryan Aldana, 20, admitted that on June 23 2018, he pointed a green laser light at an Airbus AS350 B2 helicopter while it was in the air.
On June 23 2018, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) agents were flying the helicopter on routine law enforcement patrol. At approximately 9:00 p.m., they were headed in the northwest direction along highway US-290 when agents observed a flash of green light coming from the left side of the aircraft. At the time, they were at approximately 1000 feet elevation and traveling at a speed of 70-80 knots.
The pilot reversed the aircraft back to the southeast direction and was illuminated again by the green laser, which was powerful enough to light up the entire cockpit. The light caused a glare in the pilot’s eyes and obstructed his vision, forcing him to turn his head and maneuver the Airbus away from it. The pilot also had to close and shield his eyes from the flashing green laser inside the cockpit.
The investigation led to the source of the light at a business near the intersection of Hollister and Pitner Roads in Houston. With the help of the Houston Police Department (HPD) and the store’s security cameras, Aldana was soon identified.
Video recordings show Aldana aiming a green laser up in the sky several times and a green laser pointer at the helicopter while sitting in a chair next to a silver sedan. He was also seen placing the green laser device through the opening of the silver sedan window on to the backseat.
Officers seized the laser and submitted it to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist to be examined. The scientist concluded the laser pointer is a Class IIIB laser system and produced a “laser beam” which could result in serious and possibly permanent retinal damage.
U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes accepted the plea and set sentencing for July 22 2019. At that time, Aldana faces up to five years in prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine. He was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.
The FBI, HPD and DPS conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Porto is prosecuting the case.
UPDATED July 23 2019: On July 22 2019, Brian Aldana was sentenced to 48 months in prison, and will have an additional three years of supervised release after he is released from prison. From mySA.com and CBS Dallas-Fort Worth.
There were two attacks on April 10 2019, two on April 15, one on April 15 and one on April 17.
The Toowoomba LifeFlight Rescue helicopter was flying over the Toowoomba suburb of Glenvale, when the laser light hit the aircraft. There was no indication of any eye effect or injury to the pilots, and no indication of the flight changing or being interrupted.
After the first four events, police put out a “strong media campaign” about the dangers of aiming laser pointers at aircraft. They also asked the public to report any information they might have.
Interfering with crew or aircraft carries a penalty of up to two years in prison, under the Civil Aviation Act.
From Triple M
On March 9 2015, a New York Police Department helicopter was searching for the source of a laser beam that had been aimed at airplanes flying in and out of LaGuardia. They saw a beam coming from Frank Egan's apartment, located about 10 miles from the airport. Ground units found a "Laser 303" inside. Police said Egan admitted it was his laser and he had used it that evening — but also said he had not aimed it at aircraft. He said he had been asleep in the apartment.
On March 13 2015 during a court hearing Egan, his roommate and future brother-in-law revealed on the stand that he was the one who aimed the laser at aircraft. Elehecer Balaguer, 54 said "Frank didn't have nothing to do with it. I was the one that did it. I didn't mean to cause any harm." Balaguer also said the laser was his; that he had purchased in while on vacation in Florida. According to Egan’s lawyer, Egan never told the police he used the laser, contrary to the police statement after Egan’s arrest.
On May 5 2015 Balaguer pleaded guilty to aiming a laser at an airplane in return for prosecutors recommending a minimum sentence of two years in prison (he could have been sentenced up to five years). The judge, however, noted Balaguer's "psychiatric history and … his apparent lack of wrongful intent."
In September 2015 Balaguer was sentenced to time served, after receiving a diagnosis of terminal liver cancer. He has since died.
In his lawsuit against New York City, Egan said that police falsely claimed that Egan had admitted owning the laser pointer. Egan said his picture was widely spread in the media, his reputation had suffered, and his wedding and honeymoon were disrupted by the arrest.
A Law Department spokesman said "…it was in the city's best interest to settle this case."
From the New York Daily News. Previous LaserPointerSafety coverage of the arrest and the case can be found here.
A spokesman for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport said they do not comment on laser incidents because they are concerned it can lead to copycat incidents.
According to the Irish Examiner, "In 2014 the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act made it illegal to aim laser pens at aircraft. As of August 26 2016, there were 31 reports of lasers deliberately pointed at aircraft in Irish airspace. Since the legislation was introduced, there has been a significant decrease in the number of laser incidents reported by Irish pilots in Irish airspace to Irish Air Traffic Control."
From the Irish Examiner
Ground officers were sent to the laser location, which was the home of Rodger Dean Smith, 47. He denied aiming the laser at the helicopter. Officers found a laser pointer in the home.
Officers outside the home of Rodger Dean Smith, from the Sheriff's Office helicopter infrared camera
Officers also found 12 firearms. As a convicted felon, Smith is prohibited from having firearms.
He was charged with 12 counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, assault on a law enforcement officer, and pointing a laser at a driver or pilot.
After bonding out of jail, Smith said he did not aim at the aircraft: "They were wrong. I'll have my day in court. I did not point no laser, they do not know what they're talking about."
From the Orlando Sentinel and Spectrum News 13
After the man was located, his weapon was found to be an air rifle. It is not known if the laser was attached to the rifle, or was a separate device. He was spoken to by officers and "enquiries are ongoing."
The missing person was later located on Yaverland Beach.
From UK News In Pictures, Island Echo, and Isle of Wight County Press
He was charged with an act that threatened the safety of an aircraft or persons on board, and with possession or use of a prohibited weapon without a permit.
From Mirage News and The Australian
Justin Shorey, 37, was arrested and charged with a Class A misdemeanor.
According to Fox News, in San Antonio there were 48 reports of lasers pointed at aircraft in 2016, 62 reports in 2017, and 74 reports from January through November 2018.
From Fox San Antonio. Thanks to Peter Smith and Leon McLin for bringing this to our attention.
US: Did not think laser could reach, says Washington state man arrested for aiming at sheriff's helicopter
McElfish, whose age was reported as 41 or 42, told deputies he had deliberately aimed at the helicopter, thinking the beam would not reach the aircraft.
He was arrested and charged with first degree unlawful discharge of a laser, which is a felony.
On September 15 2018 officers were flying above Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, searching for men carrying knives, when their helicopter was illuminated with "dazzling" green light three times; each time lasting 3-5 seconds. The pilot took immediate action to avoid the light.
Ground officers arrested Dimitrov under the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act. He could have been jailed for up to five years and have been given an unlimited fine.
At trial on January 29 2019, Dimitrov pleaded guilty. His lawyer said Dimitrov thought he was aiming the laser at a drone which was an "extremely ridiculous" decision but that he was of good character.
During sentencing on February 18 2019, the judge said the outcome could have been "fatal and catastrophic" and gave Dimitrov a six-month jail sentence as a deterrent.
From BBC England News
On February 17 2019, the helicopter was monitoring a fire at about 2:30 am when a red beam was shined at the aircraft three times. An infrared camera captured a suspect aiming towards the helicopter from the door of a screened-in porch.
Deputies on the ground went to a house in unincorporated Clearwater and arrested Brian Harting, who admitted aiming a laser at the aircraft.
Harting also said he was unaware that doing so was illegal. The laser had a label stating "Never aim at aircraft."
From the Miami Herald and WFLA
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: As far as we are aware, this is the first case where a person was apprehended with a laser that had a label warning against aiming at aircraft. Such a warning is not required in the U.S., as the Food and Drug Administration only requires labels that warn against injury to eyes or skin, or a potential burn hazard. FDA does recommend that laser pointer manufacturers add a a warning against aiming at aircraft, but this is not legally required.
Such a label has two advantages: 1) It can warn persons who read the label, and 2) it is easier to prosecute a person in court if they were specifically warned on the laser not to aim at aircraft, but they did so anyway. More discussion is on the page "What should be done about laser pointers?" in the two sections with labeling recommendations.
Ground officers arrested 42-year-old Sherryol Elton Clack, Jr. with a green laser pointer.
Two weeks later, FBI agents interviewed Clack. He said his friend had purchased the laser pointer and claimed the light could reach the moon. Clack then decided to aim it at a helicopter. He said this was done out of "stupidity" and he did not intend to harm anyone.
Sherryol Elton Clack, Jr.
On February 15 2019 Clack took a plea deal for the offense of Aiming a Laser Pointer at an Aircraft. Details of the deal were not available. If the judge approves the plea deal, Clack will be sentenced later to a term of up to five years in prison.
The 32-year-old will be charged with possessing and using a prohibited weapon, reckless conduct endangering life, and interfering with crew of an aircraft.
From Bay 93.9 News
According to the doctor, the beam illuminated the side of the twin-propeller aircraft and did not shine onto the pilot. The aircraft continued without further incident on its medical transfer flight.
From The Examiner
In a January 29 2019 appeal, police said they are asking for witnesses of past laser events, as well as to notify police if they become aware of a current laser aimed at aircraft so officers can respond.
The six past incidents of concern are:
- At 7.30pm on 24 October 2018 when two military Apaches flying together near Enborne were targeted.
- At 6.45pm on 30 November 2018 a pilot reported a green laser being shone approximately five miles west of Newbury.
- At 5.45pm on 12 December 2018 a laser was shone at a military Apache helicopter traveling over Marsh Benham
- At 5.35pm on 12 December 2018 a laser strike took place against a plane in the Welford area
- At 5.45pm on 8 January 2019 a report was received that a laser was shone at aircraft flying over Newbury
- At 5.50pm on 9 January 2019 at a civilian helicopter in the vicinity of Newbury Racecourse
A police spokesperson said "We are keeping an open mind as to whether any of the incidents are linked."
From the Thames Valley Police
On March 20 2018 a police helicopter was illuminated by a purple laser beam for about one minute. The pilot had eye irritation and put on night vision goggles. Silva, 33, was located on Fiesta Island and was arrested.
At trial, Silva told the jury he thought he was aiming at a drone piloted by a friend, and stopped when he realized he was instead aiming at a helicopter.
Prosecutors pointed out the difference between the helicopter and a drone, saying "He knew what he was doing. It was intentional. He didn't think he'd get found."
Silva's attorney noted that the helicopter was four miles away and thus looked smaller. She said "malicious intent" was required to convict, and that Silva did not have any intent to harm. She said "he profusely and repeatedly apologized" to police during his arrest, and that police did not go to look for the drone operator.
The jury deadlocked after four hours of deliberation on January 16 2019. Nine jurors voted to acquit and the remaining three jurors voted to convict.
The judge declared a mistrial and ordered Silva to return in late January to schedule dates for a possible re-trial. Silva remains free on $25,000 bond.
A 30-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of recklessly endangering an aircraft, and the laser was recovered by Welwyn Hatfield South Police.
The subject of the search was eventually found in woodlands.
From the Welwyn Hatfield Times and BOB FM.
The aviation authority did not give any absolute numbers of laser incidents, though the statement implied there were multiple illuminations on October 28.
Persons caught aiming lasers at aircraft can be prosecuted under the Solomon Island Civil Aviation Act 2008, section 213. They can be imprisoned for up to 14 years and fined up to SI$300,000 (about USD $37,000).
News of the CAASI warning comes almost exactly one year after an almost identical announcement from CAASI.
On July 18, "numerous" Columbus Police Department helicopters were repeatedly illuminated by a green laser beam. (It is not clear if this happened before, during or after the illumination of the Southwest flight.)
Ground units located Eugene Lamont Robinson, 36, and confiscated a six-inch "Laser 303" device. He was found at a location about 10 miles from the airport.
A "Laser 303" is a generic type of handheld laser, usually well over the 5 mW U.S. limit for laser pointers. It uses one 18650 battery and costs as little as USD $10.
Robinson was indicted on four counts of Interfering with the Operation of an Aircraft with a Laser. This is a second degree felony; he could receive up to 20 years in jail if convicted.
Robinson will be arraigned on September 12 2018.
UPDATED May 2 2019: Robinson was sentenced on May 1 2019 to county jail for 30 days, and given one year probation. In addition to the jail time and probation, Robinson is required to make a public service announcement telling viewers not to aim laser pointers at aircraft.
A spokesperson for U.S. Central Command told the paper that while the source is “exceedingly difficult to pinpoint … many likely come from insurgents and terrorist organizations.”
U.S. crews had no permanent injuries although minor effects such as short-term vision impairment and headaches were reported.
The Journal article did not indicate whether the laser illuminations were being coordinated, or if the perpetrators were using lasers of a different type or power than those commonly involved in illuminations of civilian aircraft outside of conflict zones.
Lasing rate comparison
For comparison with civil aviation, during the same January-July 2018 period American civilian pilots reported 3,182 laser illuminations to the Federal Aviation Administration. In Canada there were roughly 190 laser illuminations reported to Transport Canada, and in the U.K. there were roughly 500 laser illuminations reported to the Civil Aviation Authority.
The Middle East incidents appear to indicate a higher rate of lasing than two recent areas of concern recently disclosed by U.S. military:
- In May 2018, a Pentagon spokesperson reported “between 2 and ten” lasers aimed at U.S. aircraft operating out of Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.
- From September 2017 to mid-June 2018, about two dozen aircraft in the East China Sea were illuminated by “smaller, commercial grade” laser pointers similar to those sold for pointing and playing with pets.
Laser incidents in the Middle East had been at about 700 in 2015, about 600 in 2016, and were at about 400 in 2017. At the current rate of about 50 per month in the first seven months of 2018, there would be about 600 incidents estimated for all of 2018.
From a Wall Street Journal article by reporter Gordon Lubold; the article is behind a paywall. A non-paywall (free) summary is at The Hill.
Click to read more...
One incident occurred at Te Kauwhata at 7:40 pm. The second occurred 43 miles away (straight line; 52 miles by highway) at 8:30 pm, near Te Awamutu. Normally this journey takes about 70 minutes by car via State Highways 1 and 39. So it would appear difficult for a car at one location to make it to the other within 50 minutes.
Police said the pilots “weren’t injured but [were] quite shaken.” One of the attacks lasted 26 seconds.
In addition, there have been other recent incidents where lasers were aimed at planes in Morrinsville, Cambridge and Hamilton.
Police will investigate these laser incidents.
Since March 1 2014, New Zealand has import controls on lasers over 1 milliwatt, and sales are restricted to “authorized recipients” who must apply to the Director-General of Health. However, it does not appear to be illegal in New Zealand to possess high-powered lasers obtained prior to March 1 2014 or which are home-built.
From Stuff. Information on New Zealand laws from LaserPointerSafety.com’s “International (non-U.S.) laws” page.
The laser pointer was confiscated and the unnamed man was charged with “causing fear or alarm to the driver or pilot of a conveyance or others.” He will appear in court later in July 2018.
US: UPDATED - Florida woman arrested for aiming laser at sheriff's helicopter. Knew it was wrong; charges later dropped.
Jacqueline Robledo, 33, of Lake Worth, was arrested. She told officers she was aware that the laser light could cause blindness. She was charged with misuse of a laser lighting device and was held on $3,000 bond.
From the Palm Beach Post, Tampa Bay Times and NBC-2.com
UPDATED August 12 2018 - Charges against Jacqueline Robledo were dropped on August 9 2018. There was no reason given. Robledo did not have any previous criminal history. From myPalmBeachPost.com
Ruth Ann Hopp was ordered into temporary custody on June 25, pending a detention hearing. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
From the Brownsville Herald
U.S. officials said the low-level, harassing beams came from fishing vessels and from shore.
U.S. and Chinese military interests have had disputes in the East China Sea in recent years. However, there was no specific indication of whether there was malicious intent, or any organized effort behind the laser incidents. The officials speculated that the lasers could be directed by the Chinese government, or could be “disgruntled Chinese fishermen… who simply want to harass American pilots.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said that flying procedures have not changed due to the laser incidents. She did say pilots are “employing” required laser eye protection.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry called claims that China was responsible for the East China Sea lasers “groundless and sheer fabrications.”
According to news.com.au, “All aspects of the Chinese economy are state-controlled. And its fishing fleets are operated as a militia, working in close concert with Beijing’s navy as it seeks to assert its arbitrary claim to total control of the South and East China Seas…. The waterway is, however, part of a busy sea lane carrying enormous quantities of international trade.”
Disclosure of the East China Sea incidents came about seven weeks after the United States publicly accused China of deliberately aiming lasers between two and ten times at military aircraft in Djibouti, in East Africa. In those incidents, the Pentagon said “military-grade” lasers were used. Two U.S. Air Force pilots received minor, unspecified injuries with no long-term effects.
From the Wall Street Journal, news.com.au and Stars and Stripes
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: About 24 laser/aircraft incidents over nine months from boats or the shore of the East China Sea seems like a plausible number for random, unconnected civilian misuse of commonly available laser pointers.
Consider that the East China Sea has an area of about 500,000,000 square miles. This is roughly equivalent to the combined area of Texas, California and Florida. (Of course the Sea is far less populated even considering seacoast populations.)
In the U.S. in 2017, there were roughly 5,600 reported incidents over nine months, so 24 incidents in the same period is a reasonable number for a less-populated area. Another indication that these may be from civilian misuse is that U.S. officials indicated the East China Sea incidents occurred from “smaller, commercial-grade” lasers which includes readily available low-powered consumer laser pointers.
However, if Chinese fishing fleets are a “militia” as claimed by one news source, then there may be some coordination or central control for the laser attacks.
For a contrary view, see the June 25 2018 column “China is Trying to Bring Down American Planes With Lasers. Time to Get Tough” in the Daily Beast. Author Gordon Chang considers but rejects the unorganized attack hypothesis. He says “it is difficult to believe that Chinese fishermen can pick out American military aircraft from civilian ones without radar or other help. Moreover, state support is the best explanation for the increasing sophistication of the laserings.”
Chang argues that “Washington should consider the attacks, almost certainly directed by Beijing, as attempts to injure pilots and their crews. The American response, therefore, should be immediate in timing and devastating in effect….”
On June 19 2018 at about 12:30 am, a green laser beam was aimed at the cockpit from an apartment building balcony. The crew could identify the apartment complex the beam came from, but not a specific unit.
At about 1 am, the helicopter cockpit was again illuminated by a laser beam. This time the crew could see from which unit the beam came. Ground officers then went to the apartment, where they handcuffed and arrested the 15-year-old males.
The teens are led down the apartment staircase to a waiting police car. They were later released to their parents.
A police department spokesperson called the incident “super dangerous” and very serious. There were no injuries reported to the helicopter crew.
From MyNewsLA.com, the Orange County Register and ABC7.com
The California Highway Patrol received a number of calls from motorists who saw or were illuminated by the laser light.
James Gilbert Trujillo, 33, was arrested on suspicion of discharging a laser at an aircraft in the June 6 incident. He will appear in court June 11.
From the Victorville Daily Press and San Bernardino Sun. This news item was also filed under the Non-aviation incident news section.
The second offense occurred October 5 2017 during a World Cup qualifier game between Northern Ireland and Germany. The helicopter was monitoring the crowd at Windsor Park football ground when it was illuminated two times by laser light. The pilot could not fly by sight; he had to use instruments. The helicopter identified the laser as coming from a nearby home. Ground officers arrested Barkley while the helicopter retreated to the safety of Belfast City Airport.
At trial, it was noted that Barkley had a low IQ and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He was smoking marijuana in his bedroom at the time of the arrest.
The judge said a jail sentence “would not help society or prevent further offending.”
During his two-year probation, Barkley would receive help with his drug problems. The judge did note that if Barkley violated probation he “will go straight to prison.”
In 2015, Barkley’s laser conviction was dealt with by a youth diversion conference because of his age at the time.
From BBC News, Belfast Telegraph and Newsletter.co.uk
The pilot was temporarily disoriented. He put on night vision goggles to prevent laser light from directly entering his eyes. He was able to direct officers on the ground to the woman, who was inside a car with a “long black cylinder-shaped laser pointer in her hand.”
Federal charges were filed against the 31-year-old woman.
According to KSHB, “Kansas City Police said the pilot flying the KCPD helicopter last month [May 2018] had a temporary deficiency in his vision and is currently recovering. The pilot is expected to return and fly again.”
The FBI said there were 110 cases of pilots reporting laser illuminations in Kansas City during 2017.
In January 2017, Jordan Clarence Rogers was sentenced to three years in federal prison for an October 2013 incident where he aimed a laser at a Kansas City police helicopter multiple times, resulting in several hours of eye strain for the pilot.
From June 1 2018 reports in the Kansas City Star, KSHB.com and Fox4KC.com
The pilot directed police on the ground to the home of Darren Kenyon, 48. He told them he had been “playing” with the laser by pointing it out his bathroom window. The laser had been purchased by one of his six children while on holiday.
In Manchester magistrates court, Kenyon pleaded guilty to reckless behavior likely to endanger an aircraft. He will be sentenced at crown court.
From The Sun
The New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority said there has been eight reports of lasers illuminating Northland Emergency Services Trust helicopters in the timespan 2016-2018.
The Possession of High-Power Laser Pointers Amendment Act 2014 makes it illegal for anyone to have a high-power laser pointer in a public place. Offenders face a maximum three months in prison or a $2000 fine.
Under the Crimes Act, people found guilty of "endangering transport" can face up to 14 years' imprisonment.
From the New Zealand Herald Northern Advocate
In all of 2016, there were 73 laser incidents at Birmingham Airport, so six incidents over two evenings is especially alarming to the local police and the British Airline Pilots’ Association. Birmingham Airport police tweeted “Laser strikes directed at aircraft are extremely dangerous! They can distract or blind a pilot. It is also an offence under Article 137 Air Navigation Order 2009, endangering an aircraft.”
If the perpetrators can be found, they will face “a hefty jail sentence.”
From BBC News and Birmingham Mail
The NPAS crew contacted police in Preston, Lancashire who located and “detained the offender.” It is not known how much the persistent laser light disrupted the search for the woman. She was later found by a member of the public after a social media alert was posted.
From the Lancashire Post
A substance appearing to be oil coated the Cessna 172’s windscreen. The unnamed student said “I literally can’t see a thing” to flight controllers who safely talked him down. The incident lasted about 7 1/2 minutes.
Air traffic controller Tim Martin, who helped the student, said “That’s probably like a worst-case scenario for that pilot to land that plane with zero visibility.”
A spokesperson at at the student’s school, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, said “the student-pilot did exactly what he had been trained to do.”
From the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Although this incident does not involve a laser, it does involve a pilot with no forward vision undertaking a landing, and thus may be relevant to pilots who are temporarily blinded by a dazzling laser beam exposure.
According to China Daily, “The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the ministry has dismissed such ungrounded accusations from some US officials via official channels. It added that China always firmly honors international laws and regulations in Djibouti, and is dedicated to safeguarding regional security and peace.”
Separately, Reuters reported that “Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the government had conducted ‘serious checks’ and told the U.S. side the accusations were groundless. ‘You can remind the relevant U.S. person to keep in mind the truthfulness of what they say, and to not swiftly speculate or make accusations,’ she told a daily briefing in Beijing.”
From China Daily and Reuters
US & Djibouti: UPDATED - Pentagon says Chinese have aimed lasers at US planes in Djibouti, causing two injuries
Spokesperson Dana White said the reason for the laser activity is unknown, “but it’s serious, we take it seriously.” She said it was “a true threat to our airmen”. The U.S. has protested and has asked the Chinese government to investigate.
Another Pentagon spokesperson, Major Sheryll Klinke, said the C-130 pilots were hit with a “military grade” laser.
On April 14 2018, the US military posted this notice to airmen (NOTAM) on the Federal Aviation Administration website, warning about “unauthorized laser activity” in Djibouti.
The NOTAM was scheduled to expire on June 14.
The NOTAM coordinates (N1135.70 E04303.14) are about 2,400 feet from China’s military base in Djibouti, opened August 1 2017 near Camp Lemonnier.
An article in the quasi-official South China Morning Post referred to “Chinese military observers [who] said the lasers might have been used to scare off birds near the airfield or disrupt possible spy drones, rather than targeting foreign pilots. A Beijing-based military analyst said China has already demonstrated laser weapons being used against drones, at airshows.
China is a signatory to the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, which bans the use of lasers that cause permanent blindness. The protocol does not ban laser dazzlers, which temporarily impair vision but do not cause eye damage. It is also permitted under the Protocol to use lasers to disrupt or damage cameras and sensors such as those on missiles or satellites.
According to The Drive, “As of 2015, Chinese forces had access to at least four different man-portable systems, the BBQ-905, PY131A, PY132A, and the WJG-2002, all of which look like oversized assault rifles or shoulder-fired grenade launchers.”
From The Drive, Janes 360, C4ISRNET, Defense News, South China Morning Post, FAA PilotWeb, and a YouTube video of the May 3 2018 Pentagon press briefing by Dana White. Thanks to Greg Makhov for bringing this to our attention.
UPDATED May 4 2018: China’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry both denied the U.S. allegations of laser use by China.
UPDATED May 7 2019: An annual report to Congress on Chinese military and security developments does not mention the April 2018 Djibouti laser incidents. It does mention "a few provocative Chinese military actions" but not the alleged Chinese lasers in Djibouti. A news story says the omission is "an apparent bid to preserve the controversial military exchange program with Beijing." From the Washington Free Beacon