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US: WestJet pilot is said to have eyes "burned" at 10,000 feet

A WestJet passenger plane about 25 miles from landing at Orlando International Airport was illuminated by a green laser on May 18 2019. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the aircraft was descending through 10,000 feet at the time of the incident. FAA also reported that the pilot's eyes were burned.

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 was 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.

US: 22-year-old Florida man arrested for aiming green laser at sheriff's helicopter

A 22-year-old man was arrested May 16 2019 for aiming a green laser at a Manatee County (Florida) Sheriff's Office helicopter.

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.


Vladamir Altman


Altman was charged with a felony, that carries both fines and prison time.

From
WTSP.com and WFLA.com

Scotland: Teen arrested for lasing a rescue helicopter

A 17-year-old teenager was arrested in mid-May 2019 for aiming a laser pen at a search and rescue helicopter on January 20 2019.

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

Northern Ireland: Belfast airport warns about laser pens aimed at aircraft

The operations director at Belfast International Airport put out a warning about recent laser pen illuminations of aircraft.

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

Canada: Military plane on taxiway is hit by laser, aborts takeoff

A Canadian Armed Forces CC-130 Hercules four-engine turboprop aircraft was on a taxiway at Canadian Forces Base Greenwood on May 13 2019, when a laser was aimed into the cockpit. The crew decided to abort the flight.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police searched for, but did not find, a suspect.

From Global News

UK: 9 month sentence for 50-year-old, for aiming laser pen at helicopter

A 50-year-old man was convicted by a jury of aiming a laser beam at a West Yorkshire Police helicopter. He was sentenced May 12 2019 to nine months in prison.

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

US: Ohio man jailed and put on probation for aiming a laser at an airplane and helicopters

A 37-year-old Columbus, Ohio man was sentenced on May 1 2019 to county jail for 30 days, and given one year of probation for aiming a laser on July 19 2018 at a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 with 61 passengers on board.

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.


Eugene Robinson


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

US: Guilty plea for Houston man who aimed laser at public safety helicopter

From an April 22 2019 press release by the U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas:

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 a 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.

Australia: Six laser illuminations on a rescue helicopter, in one week

A rescue helicopter in Queensland, Australia was illuminated by laser light six times in a week.

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

US: $227,500 settlement for Bronx man cleared of aiming lasers at New York airplanes

In April 2019, Frank Egan, 36, who had been falsely accused of aiming a laser pointer at airplanes landing at LaGuardia Airport in New York was awarded a $227,500 settlement from New York City.

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.

Ireland: Rescue helicopter on hoax call targeted by lasers

On April 4 2019, the Shannon-based Rescue 115 helicopter was sent on a call to rescue a woman who reportedly was in the River Shannon. During the search, one or more lasers were pointed at the cockpit. The call was determined to be a hoax and the helicopter crew "stood down."

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

US: Orlando man arrested for aiming laser at sheriff's helicopter three times

An Orlando man wearing only boxer shorts aimed a laser three times at an Orange County Sheriff's Office helicopter on April 3 2019.

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

UK: Man with apparent weapon aims laser at police helicopter

A man who appeared to have a weapon aimed a laser beam at a Hampshire Constabulary police helicopter that was searching on the Isle of Wight for a missing person, on March 26 2019. At one point the helicopter landed in an attempt to find the laser-wielding man.

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

Australia: Teen charged for pointing laser at aircraft

An unnamed 19-year-old was arrested February 24 2019 for aiming a laser at a Cessna aircraft, then at a New South Wales Police helicopter sent to investigate. The flights occurred over the Sydney suburb of Eastlakes.

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

US: San Antonio man arrested for aiming laser at helicopter; pilot sees spots

A San Antonio Police Department pilot reported seeing spots and having blurred vision after a green laser beam was aimed at his helicopter on February 18 2019. An eye exam showed no permanent damage and the pilot was cleared to fly again.

Justin Shorey, 37, was arrested and charged with a Class A misdemeanor.


Justin Shorey


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

A Spokane County (Washington) Sheriff's helicopter was illuminated twice by a laser on February 20 2019. Ground officers going to the laser location found Janson McElfish at the door, with a silver pen-type laser in his hand.

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.

From KREM.com

UK: Six months in prison for aiming laser pen three times at police helicopter

Voyslav Dimitrov, 29, was sentenced to six months in prison on February 18 2019, for aiming a green laser pen at a police helicopter.

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

US: Florida man ignores laser label, aims it at aircraft anyway

A 48-year-old man was charged with a third-degree felony under Florida law after aiming a red laser beam at a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office helicopter — despite the laser having a warning label stating "Never aim at aircraft."

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.


Brian Harting


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.

US: Texas police pilot has pain in eyes for two days after laser is aimed at his helicopter

On November 1 2018, a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter pilot searching for a murder suspect was illuminated in the right eye by a green laser. This caused temporary blindness and a throbbing pain, which in turn caused the search to be aborted. Instead, the pilot and the tactical officer searched for and found the person aiming the laser. The pain continued for approximately two days.

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.

From EverythingLubbock.com

Australia: Charges for Winchelsea man who aimed laser at police helicopter

A Winchelsea (Victoria) man was arrested in the early morning hours of January 31 2019 for aiming a laser pointer at a police helicopter several times as it flew over Geelong.

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

Australia: Doctor in air ambulance dazzled by laser; pilot not affected

A doctor who was flying on an air ambulance plane was briefly dazzled by laser light about 10 minutes after takeoff. The January 30 2019 incident occurred to Dr. Robert Smithers, who was flying from Launceton to Devonport, in Tasmania.

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

UK: Police looking for perpetrator(s) of six aircraft lasing incidents

Thames Valley Police are asking for the public's help in finding a person or persons who aimed a high-powered green laser at civilian and military police aircraft flying over West Berkshire.

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

US: Jury deadlocked on case of laser aimed at police helicopter

A San Diego Superior Court jury could not agree to convict Robert Louis Silva, Jr. on a felony charge of discharging a laser at an occupied aircraft.

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.

From sdnews.com