A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
On April 11 2020, the helicopter was working on a mission to recover stolen weapons when it was illuminated by a laser "numerous" times. The laser strikes happened while flying below an approach path for the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Information from the crew eventually led to Gabriel Lopez Mathews.
He was indicted January 26 2021, pleaded guilty in April 2021 and was sentenced September 15 2021.
From CBS42 and ABC3340 News
Two frames from the South Australia Police helicopter. In the first frame the laser beam is aimed to the left of the camera. In the second frame the beam is aimed directly at the camera lens. The human eye would have a similar effect, first seeing the beam then being dazzled and flashblinded by the bright direct light.
According to the Herald Sun, the laser was "2000 times more powerful than the legal limit", which would make it 2000 milliwatts or 2 watts.
The perpetrator was found to be Mark Andrew Golka, 49, who lived in the Adelaide suburb of Woodcroft. He was said to have been drinking alcohol and taking prescription pain medication when he aimed the laser. At sentencing, the judge told Golka "…that is no excuse to having committed these offences."
Golka was sentenced to 15 months in prison, suspended. He signed a two-year good behavior bond, will be supervised for 18 months, and will perform 80 hours of community service.
After the sentencing, his lawyer said Golka was sorry for what he had done.
From ABC News and the Herald Sun. The ABC News page includes a video of the laser illumination, from which the two frames above were taken.
US: Probation and fine for "bored" man who aimed laser pointer at helicopter during Milwaukee protests
The laser strikes occurred seven times between May 31 and June 7 2021 in the summer of 2020 during protests in Milwaukee. An FBI surveillance airplane and a Wisconsin National Guard helicopter were targeted. The FBI crew began wearing anti-laser goggles to protect against bright laser light. A camera on board their aircraft was used to determine the laser's location. Ground officers then went in and arrested 39-year-old Jeremiah Belen, a resident of Milwaukee.
Belen apologized to the judge during his sentencing. He said he had the laser for astronomy pointing with his two children. He aimed at the aircraft because he was bored after being laid off during the COVID pandemic.
Prosecutors said they wanted the felony conviction to "send a message" that aiming at aircraft, especially during civil unrest, is dangerous.
Belen could have received up to five years in prison for his action, but was given probation due to no previous criminal history and having found a job since his arrest.
From 715 Newsroom, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via MSN
The unnamed suspect is 39 years old and a resident of Vernon. He is charged under the Criminal Code, and under the Aeronautics Act, and faces up to five years in prison and up to CDN $100,000 (USD $79,000) in fines.
From the Lake Country Calendar
The helicopter, working with a Royal National Lifeboat Institution all-weather lifeboat from Wicklow, was able to rescue the man.
The crew was illuminated by laser light both on their flight from Dublin Airport to the ship, and during the return trip as well. It was not stated how much the laser light adversely affected the helicopter's search.
An Garda Siochána police were unable to locate the source of the laser.
From Joe, the Independent, and Q102
A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson said "This was an incredibly reckless action that could have endangered the patient and crew, and Police Scotland are investigating."
As of August 11 2021, no perpetrator had been identified.
From The Scotsman and the Daily Record
On August 10, 2021, Raji Yusuf was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. The indictment alleges that on June 26, 2021, Yusuf knowingly aimed the beam of a laser pointer at a Philadelphia Police helicopter while it was in flight.
DOT-OIG is conducting this investigation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Philadelphia Police Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Note: Indictments, informations, and criminal complaints are only accusations by the Government. All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
A Louisville man was sentenced last week to 2 years of probation, including 8 months of home incarceration, for aiming a laser pointer at a Louisville Metro Police helicopter.
According to court documents, Manuel Martin Salazar-Leija, Jr., 26, of Louisville, aimed the beam of a laser pointer at an LMPD helicopter on September 25, 2020, during protests in the city. Lasers can blind pilots and cause the aircraft to crash, and aiming a laser at an aircraft is a federal felony offense.
In addition to 2 years of probation and 8 months of home incarceration, United States District Court Judge David Hale ordered Salazar-Leija, Jr., to pay a $2,500 fine and the costs of his home incarceration.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weiser prosecuted the case.
Additional details come from news reports:
The helicopter was doing surveillance after a burglary when it was illuminated by the laser beam. The pilots were temporarily blinded. Salazar-Leija admitted intentionally aiming the laser at the aircraft.
In 2020, there were 181 pilot reports of laser illuminations in Kentucky, 73 of which occurred in Louisville.
Manuel Martin Salazar-Leija, Jr.
The helicopter crew directed ground officers to Cole's apartment, where they found him still holding the laser. He admitted that he had aimed it towards the helicopter.
A news report said it was a "5,000-milliwatt laser, a powerful green military-grade laser with an effective range of 10 miles."
Shannon S. Cole
Cole was charged with two counts of assault and two counts of reckless endangerment.
From News4 Nashville
COMMENTARY FROM LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM
A 5,000 milliwatt laser (5 watts) is relatively rare for a handheld, battery-powered device. It may be that the laser label or marketing documentation claims it is 5,000 milliwatts. But this may have been inflated for marketing purposes. Our educated guess is that the laser is probably lower powered such as 1-2 watts (1000-2000 mW).
The takeaway point is that the claimed wattage of a laser is often very different from the actual output wattage. We are not aware of any police departments with the equipment and expertise to measure the actual output power of a laser.
Also, the term "military-grade" is an imprecise term with no established meaning. Military units may use handheld battery-powered lasers in the 5 watt range, but often these have additional features such as lenses to spread out the beam for dazzling persons coming to checkpoints. A 5 watt handheld battery-powered laser can be an eye hazard (hence the additional lenses to safely spread the beam) but for offensive purposes it would not be effective to say, burn skin or damage objects.
Finally, whether the laser has an "effective rage of 10 miles" depends on what effect is desired, or is to be guarded against. The news story did not indicate specifics, but here are some safety distances for a 5 watt, 532 nanometer (green) laser with a tight beam divergence (spread) of 1 milliradian.
Direct exposure to the beam can start to cause minor but detectable eye injuries at around 500 feet. Laser safety experts say a person should be 1,640 feet or further away from such a laser in order to have a "vanishingly small chance" of an eye injury. (E.g., the Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance is 1,640 feet.)
A 5W laser could cause temporary flashblindness to about 1.5 miles; the viewer would have an afterimage that would fade, similar to after a camera's flash goes off. The laser light creates veiling glare to about 6.6 miles meaning that a viewer could not see past the laser light while it was in their eyes, but could see when the beam moved off their eyed. And, the laser light is considered a distraction to 65.6 miles, meaning that the light would be brighter to a pilot than city or airport lights.
The protesters were from the group Detroit Will Breathe, self-described as "an integrated, youth-led, militant organization fighting against police brutality and systemic racism in Detroit." During a march, at about 12:30 am, the helicopter was illuminated intermittently for about seven seconds by a laser. The pilot later told investigators that "the green laser beam resulted in temporary momentary blindness causing the incapacitation of the flight crew."
Video from the helicopter, a city bus, and local buildings led investigators to Michael Sam Hurd of Fennville, Michigan. In November 2020 federal agents raided Hurd's home. He admitted having a laser pointer.
On May 14 2021 he was charged with a federal felony with a maximum five years of prison time, and was released on $10,000 bail.
After the hearing, Hurd's lawyer said "This happened in the context of a Black Lives Matter demonstration going on, so it is not like it took place at an airport or anything…. This was during the protest march when there was excessive brutality done by the police force. Whatever actions on the part of my client — we are still trying to get to the bottom of it — I’m sure were done in defense of others.”
From the Detroit News and Fox 2 Detroit. The Detroit News article has many helicopter and surveillance photos of the incident.
The helicopter crew directed ground officers to a home where the 22-year-old was arrested. He was charged with causing fear or alarm with a laser or light to people in conveyances or others. The man faces a prison term of up to seven years and a fine of up to AUS $36,000 (USD $26,600).
From The Australian
Ground officers were able to find the vehicle on the Garden State Parkway at milepost 61. They arrested Jordan Prutzman of Tuckerton, NJ, who admitted that he pointed the laser at the helicopter.
Prutzman, 32, was charged with interference with transportation, a state charge. He may also be charged with federal crimes.
From New Jersey 101.5 and Jersey Shore Online
A New South Wales Police Force helicopter was targeted after being sent to investigate.
The teen was arrested, taken to Kogarah Police Station, and later released under the Young Offenders Act.
The arrest came just a few days after NSW police issued a statement about a spike of laser incidents involving aircraft in Sydney.
From Daily Caller and 9News
The incident occurred on April 21 2021. Wayne Wiggins told reporters he did not know the helicopter was operated by the police. He grabbed the laser, which he had purchased from a shop without an Australian-required permit, and aimed it at the aircraft because "just constantly hearing the [buzz] was annoying."
He went on to say "It's the first time I've ever been in trouble in 46 years. I'm absolutely terrified of being kept in the cell, absolutely terrified. I'm sorry for what I did and damn sure it will never happen again ... I wish I could go back and not do it all."
Wiggins speaking to reporters outside the court. He repeated his apologies and regret for the incident. From the YouTube news video.
Wiggins pleaded guilty to an act with intent to prejudice the safety of an aircraft. The offense carries a maximum penalty of 14 years.
From the Daily Mail. Story from a 9-minute 7News Australia video on YouTube.
PolAir warns about dangers of aiming laser pointers at aircraft after recent strikes
The NSW Police Force Aviation Command is warning the community about the dangers of aiming laser pointers at aircraft after a spike in recent incidents, one involving an officer whose vision was allegedly temporarily impaired.
The Command has recorded about a dozen incidents of laser pointers being aimed at their aircraft and other aircraft flying around Sydney in recent weeks.
Click to read more...
Police said the laser was first reported by a truck driver on Interstate 40 who was targeted. Then the pilot told the tower that a green laser had come from near a highway. The tower contacted police.
A witness later pointed out to police a hotel room at a Quality Inn in Mt. Juliet, east of downtown Nashville, from where a laser was being aimed out the window. A man in the room was arrested by Mt. Juliet police.
As of May 5, no charges had yet been filed.
From WKRN and WSMV
A man has been arrested for allegedly pointing a laser at a police helicopter in Keysborough, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia.
After the alleged incident, police searched a home on Amanda Court. They say they found the laser pointer hidden in a basket in the front yard of the house.
Police say that they entered the house and found a man hiding under a pile of clothes in the bedroom. He was arrested.
Police will charge the 44-year-old on summons with prejudicing the safe operation of an aircraft, interfering with crew or aircraft, reckless conduct endangering life, possessing a prohibited weapon, and assault police.
The aircraft was on approach to Savannah Air National Guard Base when it was "deliberately struck by a high-powered laser for about one minute" according to the FBI. A crew member had temporary eye damage from the laser strike.
Anyone with information about the March 9 laser strike is asked to contact FBI Atlanta at 770-216-3000 or go to tips. fbi.gov.
From Military.com,The Advance, and the Associated Press
Derbyshire police officers were sent to an address to speak to the persons involved. There was no word of an arrest.
From Derbyshire Live
"A customer leaving a store was concerned a man sitting in an SUV and playing with a green laser pointer in the parking lot would point it at the airstrip to mess with planes."
From the April 1, 2021 Daily Inter Lake. (Despite the date, the story and the account were standard news, not an April Fools joke.)
COMMENTARY FROM LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM
This is one of the first news items we have seen where a member of the general public notified authorities because of concern about pointing a laser beam at aircraft. It shows a case of a person having knowledge that lasers do present a hazard to aviation, and consequently taking action. This news item has been given a Tag "Notifying authorities" which we will use for any similar stories.
The helicopter had been doing training approaches to Bellingham International Airport when the cockpit was illuminated. Deputies on the ground located 34-year-old Ronald Gregory Boettcher. He said he did not have a laser and did not aim a laser at an aircraft. Deputies found he did have a laser pointer. He was arrested on suspicion of unlawful discharge of a laser.
The CBP agent's medical condition and prognosis was not available.
From The Columbian and TickleTheWire.com
On June 4 2020, a green laser beam was aimed at the aircraft, which was monitoring civil unrest at the [Robert E.] Lee Monument, a 21-foot tall statue of the Confederate general sitting on a 40-foot pedestal. The air crew directed officers on the ground. They found and arrested 33-year-old Amanda Robinson.
In November 2020 she pleaded guilty. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the mother of 4, who had no previous criminal record, could have been jailed for up to 6 months. Both her lawyer and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia asked for no jail time, because Robinson did not know that shining a laser at aircraft was hazardous, and because she cooperated with prosecutors.
From the Richmond Times-Dispatch
"On 15 March 2021 flight VS453, operating from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport, returned to Heathrow after take-off due to a laser beam incident upon departure.
The safety and security of our people and our customers is paramount and this was a precautionary step taken by the operating crew.
We'd like to thank our customers for their patience and apologise for any inconvenience caused.
All customers were offered overnight accommodation and we are working hard to ensure they are able to continue their journeys as soon as possible.
As is standard procedure for a laser incident, we swiftly notified the police and remain in close contact with them and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)."
The Boeing Dreamliner B789 aircraft took off from Heathrow at 9:34 pm GMT. At about 10:00 pm, while flying at an altitude of 41,000 ft, it began a U-turn southwest of Paris. The flight landed back at Heathrow at 10:47 pm.
Approximately 10:00 pm the aircraft begins its U-turn
A few minutes later, it is on its way back to Heathrow…
… landing at 10:47 pm.
According to the Aviation Herald, the pilot was climbing out of Heathrow when the captain was illuminated by a laser beam. His or her condition worsened, with vision in only one eye, so the crew decided to turn back. They declared a "pan-pan", which is an urgent situation not posing an immediate danger. (This call is one level down from a "mayday", meaning imminent danger to life or the aircraft.)
The Aviation Herald also cited an Israeli media report that the laser perpetrator had been arrested.
From the Aviation Herald and the Daily Mail. Graphics from FlightAware.com
COMMENTARY BY LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM
This is the second time we are aware of that a commercial flight has turned back after having laser light from the ground interfere with the crew. On February 14 2016, a Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to New York was illuminated by green laser light 6 miles west of London while flying at 8,000 feet. That flight continued for a while but then turned back over Ireland due to the first officer having vision problems. A story with links is here.
We have also reported on a few other times that aircraft have changed course, or the many times that police or other public service flights have had a mission interrupted, because of laser interference.
The helicopter crew directed Humberside Police to a location where Trevor Cheeseman was arrested. He pleaded not guilty in December 2020. In early March 2021, Cheeseman was given a 12 month sentence, suspended four months. He was convicted of shining a laser beam towards a person providing air services, causing the laser beam to dazzle or distract that person.
From GrimsbyLive. Although the story says the sentence was 12 months with four months suspended, the headline states "Man avoids prison…" The apparent discrepancy may be due to factors of British law or judicial terms.
This was echoed in a TV report on KRDO, where a registered nurse said "In 2017, we had a crew member hit with a laser, he lost 30% of his vision in his right eye, and that was permanent damage." Another nurse told the TV reporter that after a laser illumination, "I lost my vision for a few minutes due to black circles. And then I had about a three to seven day [period] of almost just sand and painful vision for a few days."
No further details were given in the news reports. On March 1, LaserPointerSafety.com reached out to Flight for Life for more information.
Both accounts described how Flight For Life helicopter crews in Southern Colorado have been subjected to laser illuminations that have been recently increasing.
In both accounts a crew member described the light as being similar to directly looking at a camera flash. According to the Pueblo Chieftain article, "Several Flight For Life members across Colorado have had to take time off in the past to allow their eyes to heal after a laser strike."
From the Pueblo Chieftain and KDRO
On August 17 2020, the aircraft was searching for a missing person in Keighley, West Yorkshire when it was illuminated by laser light multiple times. There was no apparent ill effect on the pilot other than closing his eyes as a reflex. The crew located the source and passed the information to ground officers.
When Benjamin Fort was arrested, he first said he had been using the laser to look for rabbits, then said he aimed the laser at a "UFO". Fort said the laser pen was inexpensive so he did not think the light would get near the helicopter.
At trial, the judge said both explanations were lies: "…the reality is there was no, and never could be, any justification for what you did."
During the trial, Fort's past issues with alcohol, severe depression, and paranoia were raised. For example, at the first sentencing hearing in January 2021, Fort arrived drunk. Three officers took him to a holding cell to sleep off his inebriation. Sentencing was re-scheduled for February 26 2021.
On that date, the judge said he wanted Fort to spend years in prison because he was an "idiot" for aiming at the helicopter. He did not think such a long sentence would be sustained at appeal, so he handed down a sentence of six months.
From BBC News and the Telegraph & Argus
The pilot was able to direct ground officers to a home where the two teens were arrested for discharging a laser at an aircraft while in flight.
Both the pilot and tactical officer had the laser light shined into their eyes. They found the source was a vehicle. A deputy on the ground stopped Gladu, who told them he had been watching the stars. He said he was not aiming at the helicopter and any hit was accidental.
During the arrest, Gladu was found to have 7 grams of crystal methamphetamine in a baggie.
Gladu, who lives in Riverview in Hillsborough County, was charged with misuse of laser lighting and possession of a controlled substance.
Woman Pleads Guilty to Aiming Laser Pointer at Police Aircraft
RICHMOND, Va. – A Henrico woman pleaded guilty today to aiming a laser pointer at a police aircraft while at the Robert E. Lee Monument during a period of civil unrest.
According to court documents, on June 4, Amanda Robinson, 33, traveled to the Robert E. Lee Monument traffic circle located in Richmond. While at the traffic circle, Robinson pointed her laser pointer at a 2006 Cessna aircraft flying above her location operated by police officers of the Metropolitan Aviation Unit. The Metropolitan Aviation Unit officers were conducting aerial surveillance patrols during a period of civil unrest. In aiming the laser pointer, Robinson struck the aircraft on at least two separate occasions and disrupted the pilot’s vision. Using an onboard camera, the police officers identified Robinson as the individual aiming the laser pointer and directed police units to her location. Upon arriving to the Robert E. Lee Monument traffic circle, police patrol units detained Robinson and recovered a green laser pointer from her possession.
Click to read more...
Bakersfield Man Indicted for Laser Strikes on Sheriff Helicopter
FRESNO, Calif. — Andrew Nathan Hernandez, 18, of Bakersfield, was arrested today for aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
According to court documents, on Dec. 26, 2020, Hernandez aimed the beam of a laser pointer at the Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter Air-1. Hernandez is scheduled to be arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe on Tuesday, Jan. 26.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bakersfield Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.
If convicted, Hernandez faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charge is only an allegation; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The January 18 2021 incident resulted in declaring the gathering an "unlawful assembly" so police could legally disperse the crowd.
In a tweet, San Jose police said of the laser strike "This is not only a felony but extremely dangerous for our pilot and crew. This will not be tolerated."
From a San Francisco Chronicle article (paywall) excerpted at Patch.com
On September 2 2020, a National Police Air Service helicopter with a crew of three was searching for a missing female teen at about 2:40 am when it was hit by five or six "bright green, sharp lights" lasting 5-10 seconds each. The pilot was momentarily blinded and was disoriented; another crew member was dazzled. The crew abandoned the search due to the pilot's loss of vision.
Ground officers went to a location pinpointed by the helicopter's thermal imaging camera. They smelled marijuana and found William Andrew David James Fellowes with a laser pen. He later told police he had been pointing at stars and the pilot got in his way. He said he did not know the sky light was a helicopter and thought it was a bird, a satellite or a hot air balloon.
Fellowes pleaded guilty to directing a laser beam towards a moving police helicopter in violation of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act of 2018.
At trial the prosector said the aircraft was circling at 1,000 feet with its flying lights illuminated. He said the aircraft would have been obvious to ground observers.
The court was told that Fellowes had 30 previous offenses, including battery, possession of a knife, criminal damage, theft, and possession of cannabis with intent to supply.
Fellowes defense barrister said he "now realized how serious his actions had been and was remorseful for what he had done."
The judge found that Fellowes had not deliberately meant to harm the crew but his actions could have resulted in an accident, and did result in diverting the missing person search.
After sentencing, a South Wales Police superintendent said "National Police Air Service are a valuable partner who regularly assist us with our policing operations and searches. On this occasion they were performing a vital duty and assisting us to look for a vulnerable and suicidal young girl who had been reported missing…. The actions of this individual not only prevented them from carrying out these important duties but potentially could have had devastating effects in causing the helicopter to crash."
The head of safety at the National Police Air Service said during 2020 there had been an average of six laser attacks per month on its aircraft.
From Wales Online. The article includes photos and a video from the police helicopter.