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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.
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.
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
Pilot Stephen Bowman was assisting with a situation involving a barricaded suspect, when he was hit by the laser at around 10:50 pm. Bowman told Bay News 9, “It blinded us temporarily for a couple of seconds — extremely painful. Once we came to, we saw a couple more flashes from the laser." Examination of video from the helicopter showed about 10 flashes.
Bowman began tracking the suspect. After landing the helicopter and going to the suspect’s home, there he detained Ryan Fluke, 27.
Bowman said Fluke was “a little confused”, asking where the helicopter was. Fluke also told Bowman he was doing it for fun. Fluke did not realize that lasers could travel a long distance (the helicopter was about 800 feet in the air). Fluke apologized to Bowman.
Fluke was charged with a third-degree felony, misuse of laser lighting devices. He had 12 previous arrests in Pasco County.
From the Bradenton Herald and ABC News, whose story includes police video of what the laser looked like from the air.
UPDATED MARCH 28 2019: Fluke pleaded guilty November 20 2018 to aiming a laser at an aircraft and was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison, in March 2019. From ABC Action News, the Global Dispatch and a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida.
On August 19 2017, the helicopter was flying over power lines when the cockpit lit up briefly with laser light. The helicopter spotter had to close his eyes. The pilot then aimed the aircraft’s searchlight down at the source of the laser beam, a person in a Jeep Patriot. The laser continued to be aimed at the helicopter.
Chula Vista police stopped the SUV. 27-year-old Michael Angelo Ramirez, a passenger, told them he shined the laser at what he thought was a drone, and the drone aimed a light back. He said he turned off the laser once he realized he had hit a helicopter.
However, the driver of the Jeep told police that it was clear the aircraft was a helicopter and not a drone.
Ramirez was taken into custody and later was released. After his arraignment on November 30 2017 he was taken back into custody. Ramirez faces up to five years in jail and up to a $250,000 fine.
From the Times of San Diego
UPDATED December 28 2017 - Ramirez pleaded guilty to one charge of aiming at an aircraft, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
At about 12:45 am on October 22 2017, the helicopter was providing support to ground units responding to a domestic violence disturbance when it was continuously illuminated by a green laser beam. The tactical flight officer was hit three times in the eyes.
The pilot had momentary flashblindness and lost night vision. The tactical flight officer had watering eyes, discomfort and pain. There was no reported eye injury.
The helicopter broke off from its mission to pursue the laser perpetrator.
The beam came from the driver’s side of a car traveling north on Highway 99 in Fresno. Ground officers pursued Alvarez’s car, which began a high-speed chase. Twice during the chase Alvarez stopped to drop off passengers. The car eventually crashed into a median. Alvarez got out and ran towards neighboring homes. He was apprehended by officers in the backyard of a home after a short foot pursuit.
Alvarez had minor injuries from the crash and was taken to a hospital for treatment. At the hospital, a baggie was found with substances suspected to be marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine.
Inside the car’s driver side door pocket police found a laser marked “Laser 303” with a green multi-dot beam (perhaps a diffraction grating making a star-field-like pattern) and a danger label.
After an FBI investigation, Alvarez was charged with violating federal law by knowingly aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft or its flight path. In addition, there were two previous felony warrants out for Alvarez’s arrest on other, unspecified charges.
From a report by Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica. The criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California is here.
UPDATED May 7 2018 — Michael Vincent Alvarez was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the October 22 2017 incident. From KMPH and the Fresno Bee.
The first laser strike occurred about 3 a.m. on August 28 2017 as the pilot was flying from Wyoming to Salt Lake City. On the return flight, the pilot was illuminated again, from the same location. He identified a vehicle for the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, who dispatched ground units that arrested Ryan Michael Kane.
If convicted, Kane could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
From Gephardt Daily
UPDATED July 12 2018: The perpetrator, identified as “Michael Ray Kane” a 26-year-old carpenter from Coalville (near Salt Lake City), was sentenced July 12 2018 to three years of probation. The sentence came “moments after the pilot described how night-vision goggles intensified the beam, but he did not sustain any permanent damage that would threaten his livelihood.” He was also banned from possessing a laser pointer during the probationary period, and must submit to periodic drug tests.
In March 2018 Kane pleaded guilty in exchange for prosecutors seeking a six month prison term. (He could have served up to five years and been fined up to $250,000.)
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball may have decided on probation after hearing that Kane had come to realize that what he did was dangerous, had cooperated with investigators, had a child, and had stopped using marijuana. Kimball told Kane “I'm satisfied that you're finally growing up, but I'm telling you, do not get in any more trouble.”
Officers on the ground had seen a red laser beam that appeared to be attached to a firearm. The helicopter was sent to investigate. A detective in the helicopter testified that he saw a bright red light which was pointed at the aircraft numerous times. The detective said he was worried for the pilot’s vision, and also that the laser could be attached to a weapon.
He radioed a description of the suspect to ground officers. Based on his appearance, officers approached Javonnie Silburn, then approximately 19 years old. They asked if he had a laser; Silburn said yes and showed them a device that had both an LED light and a red laser beam. He was arrested on a charge of endangering an aircraft.
Later Silburn told police that he did not do it, that it was another man.
Prior to the trial, Silburn attempted to plead guilty to shining the laser at the helicopter one time. But the Crown did not accept the plea due to the multiple times the laser was directed at the aircraft.
The endangerment charge was apparently dropped. Silburn, now 21, is being tried on a charge of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior within the sight or hearing of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.
Under cross-examination on the first day of the trial, the detective admitted he could not say definitely that Silburn was the person with the laser, only that he identified a man with an Afro hairstyle and short pants.
According to the Cayman Compass, there was a separate laser incident in November 2015 involving police aircraft.
From stories in the Cayman Compass by Carol Winker. (August 31 2017 story about trial being set, Sept. 13 2017 story about initial court proceedings, Sept. 14 2017 story about trial being delayed for a few days).
UPDATED September 28 2017 - The trial was delayed until October 11 2017.
The next night, a green laser beam was pointed for 5-10 seconds at a commercial aircraft as it was preparing to land in Charlottetown, which is about 60 km east of Fernwood. The beam came from the Brackley Beach area about 15 km northwest of the Charlottetown Airport, at about 11 pm local time. Neither pilot in the WestJet aircraft looked into the light; they were able to land without incident.
RCMP on July 17 asked the public for help in finding the perpetrators of these incidents.
A follow-up news story quoted a former pilot as saying the person responsible should “face justice.” He said it was a “very dangerous thing to have happen to you, and they are so destructive… Make the penalties very severe when they’re caught.”
In Canada, shining a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense punishable to up to five years in prison and/or up to $100,000.
On July 18, a witness contacted RCMP to say he was on Brackley Beach from 10:00 to 11:30 pm. He said a child of about 10-12 years old was using a laser to point at several things, including two aircraft. He said the child was tracing the path of a plane, but was not trying to shine it in the cockpit.
The child and his or her family is not known. RCMP said charges might not be placed in this case: “It does appear that this specific incident was a child at play and not a direct criminal offence. That being said, the child was in the custodial guardianship of two adults and RCMP are asking that items of this nature not be used for entertainment and not be provided to young children as they are unaware of the danger that they can inflict."
The director general for civil aviation, Aaron McCrorie, said there were 333 reported incidents in 2012, 590 incidents in 2015, and 527 in 2016. He said there was only one reported laser/aircraft incident in PEI in the past five years; it took place in 2015.
McCrorie said there have been no accidents in Canada due to such incidents but there have been some cases of permanent eye damage to pilots.
From CBC News (initial report, follow-up, witness report, McCrorie quotes) and OHS Canada
Note: LaserPointerSafety reached out to Transport Canada for clarification about McCrorie’s claim of cases of permanent eye damage to pilots, since we are unaware of any such documented cases with civil pilots either in Canada or worldwide. On July 20 2017, we received an email response from Julie Leroux, Communications Advisor, Media Relations, Transport Canada:
“Laser pointers have serious effects that distract and temporarily blind pilots. While Transport Canada has received reports of pilots experiencing eye damage as a result of a laser strike, due to doctor-patient confidentiality, the department is not in a position to provide details about specific cases.
Generally, pilots report suffering from eye irritation or light sensitivity after being struck in the eye by a laser, which could seriously affect their ability to fly safely.
Mr. Aaron McCrorie, Director General, Civil Aviation, was referring to Canadian cases only.”
On July 26 2017, Leroux further clarified via email:
"Mr. Aaron McCrorie, Director General, Civil Aviation, was misquoted in the [CBC News] story you reference. During the interview he stated Transport Canada is aware of incidents that caused temporary damage to pilots’ eyes, but did not refer to a specific case of permanent blinding. Transport Canada is not aware of any cases where a pilot suffered permanent eye damage as the result of a laser strike."
Seventy-four other police officers were injured; one was hospitalized with an eye injury after a firework exploded in his face.
From the Mirror and Reuters
UPDATED JULY 9 2017 - After intensive investigations, German police arrested a 27-year-old Hamburg man “on suspicion of attempted murder”. The unnamed man blinded the two pilots “so badly while they were up in the air that they had to stop working because they couldn’t see.”
Gary Cameron believed the police were spying on him when he repeatedly shone the Class 2 (less than one milliwatt) at the helicopter — even as ground officers were interviewing him, prior to arrest.
According to his defense lawyer, Cameron had psychological problems for which he was seeking treatment. He pleaded guilty to culpable and reckless conduct.
From the Scottish Sun
UPDATED December 22 2017 - Cameron was sentenced September 7 2017 to hours of unpaid work and to supervision. As of December 21 2017, Cameron had not yet been provided with information about the unpaid work order, or the start date. A court review hearing was set for March 23 2018. From the Clydebank Post.
US: UPDATED - Convicted laser offender apologizes, saying he lost everything for three seconds of aiming laser at helicopter
According to an FBI press release, Barry Lee Bowser Jr., then 51 years old, aimed “the beam of a laser at Air-1, a Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter that was providing support to ground units responding to a man armed with a gun. At trial, the evidence established that the mission was diverted when the pilot of Air-1 was struck by direct hits from a powerful green laser that illuminated the cockpit and tracked the aircraft near the approach path to Meadows Field Airport. The laser strikes caused the pilot to experience flash blindness, eye discomfort, and pain that lasted several hours. In imposing sentence on September 28 2015, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill found that Bowser had obstructed justice before trial by concealing the laser and providing false statements to law enforcement and at trial through his false testimony about the offense.”
On September 23 2016, Bowser wrote to apologize, and to describe how his life had been ruined:
I'm writing this letter to apologize to the community of Bakersfield and to the Kern County Sheriff's Department —especially to the flight crew of KCSO Air One, piloted by Deputy Austin.
I was convicted of one count of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft and sentenced to 24 months in a federal penitentiary, then 36 more months of supervised release for a total of 60 months — five years — plus ordered to pay a special assessment fee of $10,000. I am very lucky the pilot was an expert and highly skilled at piloting the helicopter.
I also want to educate anyone who owns a laser and might be inclined to use it the way I did: Learn from my mistake. I am now just getting out of prison. I have paid dearly, for I have lost my girlfriend, my dog, my home, my vehicle. Everything I owned, everything I have worked for 30 years of my life, is gone.
For shining a laser at a helicopter for three seconds, I lost my entire life. I am now 54 years old and I have no one and nothing but the clothes I was given when I was released from prison.
From Bakersfield.com. Original LaserPointerSafety.com story about Bowser is here. There is a small discrepancy; the FBI said Bowser’s sentence was 21 months while Bowser stated it was 24 months.
UPDATED December 20 2016 — An extensive profile of Barry Bowser’s laser pointer incident, trial, and his life before and after his arrest, was published by Ars Technica. The 4,000 word article by editor Cyrus Farivar describes a convicted criminal and meth addict who said he was trying to go straight and clean.
On the evening of September 11 2014 he was bored and found a laser pointer which had been given to him as a dog toy. The dog soon tired of playing so Bowser aimed at a billboard, and two radio towers before he hit something in the sky — the Sheriff’s Office helicopter. When police arrived, Bowser told them he was testing the laser’s capabilities. During his trial in federal court, the case hinged on Bowser’s intent. (The applicable federal law states “Whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft … shall be fined … or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.)
Prosecutor Karen Escobar said the lasing was done knowingly: “[Y]our common sense tells you there was an aiming because there were direct hits of the aircraft, and there was more than one strike.” Bowser’s public defender said there was no intent — Bowser had not meant to aim a laser pointer at a helicopter. After 4.5 hours of deliberation, Bowser was found guilty.
As stated in Bowser’s September 23 2016 letter, the conviction and jail time was ruinous: “For shining a laser at a helicopter for three seconds, I lost my entire life.”
Farivar’s profile is one of the few in-depth examinations of a laser pointer arrest, conviction and aftermath. His article also links to an annotated transcript of day 1 and of day 2 of Bowser’s trial, and annotated related court documents. Farivar has previously reported a number of stories about laser pointer misuse for Ars Technica.
Virgin’s website stated that “Following this incident the first officer reported feeling unwell. The decision was taken by both pilots to return to Heathrow rather than continue the transatlantic crossing."
The airline said passengers would stay overnight and would then be able to fly to JFK Airport “as soon as possible”.
Police were attempting to find the laser source, said to be 6-7 miles from the airport. An article in the Daily Mail included a map showing the aircraft’s takeoff pattern, and the area where the laser beam was thought to have originated.
From the Telegraph, Daily Mail, BBC News and ITV. Audio recording from AirportWebcams.net.
UPDATED February 15 2016: The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) called for “the Government to classify lasers as offensive weapons which would give the police more power to arrest people for possessing them if they had no good reason to have them.” From a statement on BALPA’s website, reprinted here.
UPDATED February 17 2017: A forum post claiming to be from the Virgin Atlantic pilot gave details about the incident. The person posted under the handle “scroggs”. He wrote: “I am the Captain in this event…. It was a red beam, not a green one. It was indeed reported as and when it happened. The pictures we got show its ground position (which wasn’t Legoland as far as I can see), and will hopefully help those in the know to estimate its power and provenance.”
Scroggs continued: “As was reported in the news, the FO did receive retinal damage from what appeared to be a 'lucky' passing sweep, but it's not permanent and will heal fully. There was no visual impairment during the flight, but there was no way of knowing (for me) that that would continue to be the case. The symptoms were slow in making themselves apparent. That's about all I'm prepared to say for now.” From post #173 in a thread on PPRuNE.org about the incident.
Background commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com
After around 40,000 laser incidents reported to U.S. FAA and U.K. CAA from 2004 through 2015*, as of February 14 2016 this is the first occurrence we are aware of where a commercial aircraft has turned around and not completed its flight, due to a laser incident from the ground.
- There have been a few instances where a flight has changed course, such as pilot doing a “go around” on landing because of laser light on the first attempt.
- Some police and rescue operations have had their missions disrupted by a laser; this has been common for the U.S. Coast Guard which has operational rules requiring a mission to abort if there is laser illumination.
- In 2013, there was an incident where an aircraft made an emergency diversion 224 miles short of its destination, because a passenger onboard was using a homemade laser to burn several small holes in fabric near his seat. This is the only other emergency diversion we are aware of due to laser misuse.
As of February 14 2016, there is no confirmed, documented case of permanent eye injury to a civilian pilot (commercial, general aviation, or police/rescue) due to exposure in the cockpit to laser light from the ground.
In a fall 2014 case, first publicly reported about a year later, a British Airways pilot illuminated by a laser on landing at Heathrow was treated at a Sheffield hospital for spots on his retina. The case was reported in a medical journal in January 2016 which said the area had healed within two weeks. An expert close to the case, who directly examined the journal paper and the evidence, told LaserPointerSafety.com in February that he does not believe the retinal injury was laser-induced, and that it was “not confirmed” as a laser injury “despite what the journal paper says.”
*29,097 laser incidents reported to U.S. FAA, Jan 1 2004 through Dec 31 2015; plus “more than 8,998 laser incidents” reported to U.K. CAA “between 2009 and June 2015.”
McAuslan said the identity of the person, who was acting as co-pilot at the time of the incident and thus was not operating the aircraft, could not be revealed at present due to it being reviewed by an “employment tribunal.” British Airways said they are investigating the claimed injury.
McAuslan said that “kids’” lasers could not cause injury but that laser weapons could now be purchased illegally. [Lasers over 1 milliwatt in power are not legal for sale to the general public in Britain.] He said “We’re very concerned about it. When something as strong as this comes on the scene it starts to worry us.”
BALPA is also concerned over a survey of its pilot members, showing that 50% had reported a laser/aircraft incident during the period from November 2014 to November 2015.
According to the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority, there have been about 4-5 laser incidents reported each day on average, over the past four years. From January 1 to June 30 2015, there were more than 400 laser incidents reported to CAA.
From the Guardian, the Express, the Evening Standard, and the Belfast Telegraph
UPDATED - April 20 2016: Significant doubt has been cast on whether the eye damage was caused by a laser. In January 2016, a medical journal report was published by two ophthalmologists and a laser safety regulator. The report stated that there was no long-term negative effect on vision: “The pilot’s symptoms fully resolved 2 wk later.”
In February 2016 a very knowledgeable expert, who directly reviewed all evidence in the case, told LaserPointerSafety.com he “doesn’t believe it was laser-induced” and that the injury being caused by a laser was “not confirmed, despite what the journal paper says.”
This is confirmed by an April 2016 editorial written by three leading U.K. laser safety experts — including the laser safety regulator who co-authored the January 2016 medical journal report. The experts concluded the case is suspect for a number of reasons; they do not believe laser targeting caused the alleged injury. They wrote: “Only one case of alleged retinal damage to a pilot resulting from laser targeting of aircraft has been reported, although not in a peer review ophthalmic journal. This case is suspect because first and foremost, the metrology and exposure geometry would suggest insufficient energy could have entered the eye to produce irreversible damage and second the fundus anomaly is in the wrong location, the wrong shape and resulted in an extremely transient reported loss of VA [visual acuity] with full recovery.”
Analysis and commentary by LaserPointerSafety.com
If the pilot’s injury was caused by the laser exposure, this would have been the first documented case of a permanent laser eye injury to a civilian pilot. It would also have been the first case where a civilian pilot was unable to continue to be qualified to fly, due to laser exposure while in an aircraft.
There may be military cases of laser eye injury but if so, these would likely be classified and thus not be known to LaserPointerSafety.com. (There was a 1997 case of a military observer who had a claimed eye injury which was later found by laser injury experts to be not caused by his laser exposure.)
The incident occurred on May 30 2015. Orlando Jose Chapa was in his driveway when he aimed a laser beam at a Department of Public Safety helicopter. He was arrested on September 23 2015, after being indicted by a federal grand jury.
He remains free on bond; a sentencing date has not been set. He could receive up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000.
Orlando Jose Chapa
Pablo Cesar Sahagun, 26, was also charged with possessing seven “cricket bombs,” made by filling an empty CO2 cartridge with gunpowder or flash powder, and attaching a fuse. If convicted, Sahagun would face an additional ten years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.
From the U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of California press release dated July 21 2015
UPDATED - April 18 2016: Sahagun was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He had pleaded guilty on January 11 2016. From Bakersfield.com
All planes involved landed safely, and there were no reports of injuries [but see Updated information below]. Flight controllers did have to change the approach path so subsequent aircraft could avoid the area.
In a statement, the FAA said there were a total of 11 aircraft in and around New Jersey that reported laser illuminations. [Note: Due to the distances involved, it is not possible that all 11 were struck by the same laser beam.]
- Porter 141 was at 3,000 feet 15 miles southwest of Newark Liberty International Airport
- American Airlines 1472 was 20 miles southwest of Newark Airport
- United Airlines was at 9,000 feet seven miles from Newark Airport
- American Airlines 966 was at 3,00 feet 15 miles south of Newark Airport
- Delta Air Lines 504, Shuttle America 3489 and JetBlue 828 were at 3,000 feet four miles south of the Outerbridge Crossing [this is about 15 miles from Newark Airport]
- JetBlue 2779 did not report its location
- American Airlines 348 was at 9,000 feet over New Jersey heading to LaGuardia Airport
- One aircraft reported it was illuminated when it was over Ocean City [about 100 miles from Newark Airport]
- Republic Airlines 4632 reported it was at 9,000 feet seven miles northeast of Robbinsville [about 30 miles from Newark Airport]. The flight was heading to Pittsburgh, PA
In 2014, there were 28 laser incidents reported at Newark, 37 at LaGuardia and 17 at JFK Airport. As of mid-May 2015, there were 21 laser incidents at Newark, 36 at LaGuardia, and 5 at JFK.
From WWLP.com, CBS New York, My9NJ.com and WABC New York
UPDATED July 16 2015 6:51 PM EDT: ABC News stated that “the pilot of one plane reported having blurred vision, according to federal officials.”
On August 25 2012, Rodriguez and his then-girlfriend repeatedly aimed a $8.00 green laser at a Fresno Police Department helicopter. On March 10 2014, Rodriguez was sentenced on two charges; one with a penalty of 5 years in prison and the other with a 14-year sentence. (According to an analysis by LaserPointerSafety.com, 8 of the 14 years were imposed for the laser violation, and an additional 6 years were due to Rodriguez’s prior criminal history of gang affiliation and numerous probation violations.)
Rodriguez received 5 years in prison on a charge of aiming the laser at an aircraft (18 U.S.C. § 39A). This sentence was upheld by the Ninth Circuit. Judge Barry Silverman, writing for the panel, said that “the evidence showed that [Rodriguez] was attempting to see how far his laser would go at night - a stupid thing to do, yes, but there is no evidence that he was trying to interfere with the pilot.” Silverman added that this conviction “is designed for knuckleheads like him.”
But the 14-year sentence was overturned on the charge of willfully attempting to interfere with the safe operation of an aircraft in reckless disregard for human safety (18 U.S.C. § 32). Silverman wrote that this conviction "is designed for both the Osama bin Ladens of the world - people trying to bring down a plane, intending to cause harm - and those who are aware that their actions are dangerous and could harm others, but just don't care…. The failure to recognize this distinction is to fail to appreciate that Congress saw fit to create two different crimes, one more serious than the other, for two different types of offenders.”
The judges referenced an April 30 2015 decision in United States v. Gardenhire. In this case, judges said that even if a person knows that a laser is dangerous when pointed directly at someone’s eyes, they may not know the “bright light” danger miles away to a pilot operating at nighttime.
Silverman noted that to uphold a reckless endangerment charge, prosecutors would have to show that “similarly situated defendants, or even average people, understand how laser beams operate.” Just aiming at a helicopter "is not, in and of itself, sufficient to allow a rational factfinder to conclude that Rodriguez acted with a reckless disregard for the safety of human life.”
From Courthouse News Service and Ars Technica. The full decision of the court is reprinted below, click on the “Read More…” link.
UPDATED November 4 2016: Rodriguez appealed the June 2015 5-year sentence. On October 17 2016, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 5-year sentence. In an unpublished, unanimous opinion, a three-judge panel found the sentence was reasonable, even though advisory guidelines call for a sentence of only 21 to 27 months (1.75 to 2.25 years).
This was due to a number of factors: 1) “Rodriguez increased the dangerousness of the offense by striking the helicopter six or seven times,”, 2) minor children were involved, 3) he had a criminal history including gang involvement and 4) he was on probation when the laser illuminations occurred. From Ars Technica, Pasadena News Now and Courthouse News Service
Click to read more...
Case 1: Johnny Alexander Quenga, 28, of Fresno
On March 5 2015, the Fresno Police Department helicopter Air 1 was illuminated by green laser light about six times over ten minutes. One crew member, who had been illuminated by lasers numerous times in the past, suffered temporary flashblindness, afterimages, a headache lasting several hours requiring pain medication, and dizziness. He said the beam was much brighter than in his past experience. The pilot had a momentary loss of night vision, and flew a wide orbit to avoid the beam. The pilot directed ground officers to the location.
However, a patrol car on the way to the suspect’s home was broadsided at an intersection by a Toyota 4Runner. The Jaws of Life were needed to rescue one of the officers. Both officers in the car were treated at a hospital for serious injuries. The officer driving was knocked unconscious, had upper body and leg injuries, and some chipped teeth. The passenger officer had a broken leg and a fracture in his back that may require surgery. (The 4Runner driver and passenger suffered minor injuries.)
The Fresno Police Department car that was broadsided on the way to arrest a man who aimed a laser pointer at an FPD helicopter. Two officers were seriously injured. Photo from YourCentralValley.com.
When officers finally reached Quenga’s home, they found he was listening to police department radio traffic. He said “he could hear everything the officers were saying and knew they were looking for him and [he] had possibly hidden the laser.” Quenga claimed the laser beam came from a house behind him. He further said he worked as a security guard and knew he could lose his job for misuse of a laser.
On the evening of March 9, the Federal Aviation Administration notified the New York Police Department aviation department that someone was pointing laser beams at aircraft landing and taking off from LaGuardia Airport. A helicopter was dispatched to try and “draw fire.” Nothing happened for about 20 minutes, until the helicopter flew a path similar to an aircraft landing approach. On the second pass, a laser was aimed at the helicopter.
Both pilots were hit. Said one, “You feel a strong tingle in your eyes. You have a burnt spot where you can’t see. It is very dangerous for any pilot to be blinded.”
Ground officers went to the apartment of Frank Egan, 36. His mother invited the officers inside, where they found a device labeled “Laser 303.” According to police, Egan admitted using the laser pointer. He said it was purchased for $50 in an Orlando shop while on vacation.
He was charged with assault on a police officer, felony assault, menacing a police officer, reckless endangerment, and criminal possession of a weapon.
The next day, March 10, Egan told reporters that he did not aim the beam and that he was sleeping at the time of the incident.
From NBC 4 New York, the New York Post and the New York Times
UPDATED March 14 2015: Frank Egan’s roommate and brother-in-law, Elehecer Balaguer, 54, claimed that he was the one using the laser pointer. According to the New York Times, Balaguer swore an oath in New York State Supreme Court on March 13 2015 that he, not Egan, was responsible: “Frank had nothing to do with it. I was the one that did it. It was just a kid thing. It was a stupid thing to do.” Balaguer first denied aiming at aircraft, then after being asked two more times, confessed “I pointed it at the plane, yes, thinking it was a …” and his voice trailed off. He then said “But I didn’t mean to hurt anybody.” According to Egan’s lawyer, Egan never told the police he used the laser, contrary to the police statement after Egan’s arrest. From the New York Times. A related article in the New York Times published March 12 2015 was entitled “Powerful Lasers Easy to Buy, Experts Say.” The New York Post called the laser “military-grade” and said it had been purchased while on vacation in Orlando.
Elehecer Balaguer in court
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UPDATED March 17 2015: Balaguer was charged on March 16 2015 in federal court with aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. This has a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. FAA officials said they had to redirect traffic in and out of LaGuardia on March 9 to avoid going over the Bronx, where Balaguer and Egan lived. Balaguer’s attorney said the suspect “uses methadone every day and takes medication for bipolar disorder”, and that he was “harmless”: “It was stupidity, not venality.” From the Wall Street Journal.
UPDATED May 5 2015: Balaguer pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. He could face up to five years in prison. The judge said sentencing guidelines call for between 2 and 2 1/2 years. He said sentencing of Balauger would not be routine “Given his psychiatric history, given his apparent lack of any wrongful intent, I can see one set of arguments being made; on the other hand I can see a different set of arguments because of the danger presented,” said the judge. Sentencing was scheduled for September 9 2015. According to the New York Post, Balaguer is a disabled ex-heroin dealer who has a history of schizophrenia and left school after ninth grade. From CBS New York, the New York Post, and the New York Times.
UPDATED April 19 2019: Frank Egan received a $227,500 settlement from New York City. His lawsuit said police had falsely claimed that Egan had admitted to owning the laser found during the arrest. 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.
The incident occurred September 23 2014. The laser was pointed at the plane for around 2-4 minutes. Police are looking for the perpetrator.
Earlier in the month, on September 5, a Porter Airlines flight from Toronto was flashed with a green laser as it approached the Ottawa runway, according to CBC News.
A WestJet spokesperson said the pilots were cleared to fly and there was no permanent damage: “... there are real health repercussions for being exposed to a laser beam, so we do have a protocol in place where they will get checked out and there is also follow-ups.”
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WKMG-TV’s helicopter was filming a football game at Paul J. Hagerty High School with the incident occurred. A screenshot of footage from the TV helicopter shows the bright green flash as the beam is aimed directly at the camera:
A second later, as the beam is aimed away from the camera, the laser location is visible in the crowd at the end of the bleachers:
A close-up of the video footage, taken just after the laser was turned off, shows the two suspects. The bright object at lower left inside the yellow circle appears to be the laser, held in the left suspect’s right hand.
According to the station, a sheriff’s department helicopter was also hit; presumably it was responding to the WKMG illumination. Deputies told WKMG reporter Shaun Chaiyabhat that they talked to two teenaged suspects, but the deputies think the teens might have passed the laser pointer to friends in the crowd.
Chaiyabhat said “The Sheriff’s Office is taking this very seriously because they say it could be a federal crime.”
UPDATED - September 22 2014: WKMG ran a recap and short update on the story. The laser was not only pointed at the helicopters, but “players on the field were also complaining of getting flashed by the bright light.” As of the update, no arrests had been made.
On June 7 2014, a California Highway Patrol helicopter was responding to an incident in Oakland when the flight officer noticed two green flashes aimed at the aircraft. Ground officers found a laser pointer in Palomino’s pocket.
The helicopter had to break off a search with the Oakland Police Department, to deal with the laser incident. In an affidavit, an FBI special agent stated that “the two officers in the CHP helicopter had to divert their attention back and forth between searching for the source of the laser and providing assistance to the OPD.”
According to the Contra Costa Times, Palomino was taking a selfie video during the incident: “In the video, Palomino yelled at the helicopter pilot, ‘Look at this laser!’ A woman can be heard in the background saying, ‘Don't do that! You know you could blind ... You('re) going to go to jail if you do that. Don't do that!’”
According to SFGate, “In a recorded telephone conversation from jail, Palomino asked his mother in Spanish if she had recorded a news segment about the incident, which he described as an ‘embarrassment,’ Koh wrote [in the affidavit]. ‘Palomino’s mother replied by stating, ‘You should be embarrassed for doing dumb a– things.’ “
Palomino is free on $10,000 bond with a condition of a 6 pm curfew. The teen was released into the custody of his mother, and will be arraigned on September 5 2014.
From NBC Bay Area and SFGate
UPDATED December 2 2015 — Palomino was sentenced to five years probation, including six months of community confinement in a halfway house, 200 hours of community service, and not owning a laser pointer. He also will be required to educate people about the consequences of aiming laser pointers at aircraft. From the Contra Costa Times
From Connect MidMissouri
UPDATED September 8 2016: Rogers pleaded guilty to one felony count. Prosecutors say the pilot sustained eye strain that lasted for hours. From KSNT.com
The helicopter crew was investigating an attempted burglary when they were hit “about four or five times” by a person in a car stopped at a traffic light. Parrott was charged with knowingly and willfully pointing a laser lighting device at the pilot of an aircraft, which is a third degree felony in Florida. Federal charges under the February 2012 law -- with a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a $250,000 fine -- may also be filed. In addition, the state attorney’s office was considering charging the driver of the car, Steven Romano, age 55.
During the arrest, Romano’s car at right, has six police vehicles behind it.
This incident comes less than a month after an Orlando-area teen was arrested June 7 for aiming a laser at a Seminole County sheriff’s helicopter (just north of Orlando), and only two days after an Orlando-area teen was arrested June 30 for aiming a laser at an Osceola County sheriff’s helicopter (just south of Orlando).
From ClickOrlando.com and the Orlando Sentinel
UPDATED November 18 2014 - Parrott was found guilty of aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States. Parrott faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for February 2, 2015. From an FBI press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Florida.
On June 5 2014, a green laser was pointed at a Tampa police helicopter. The crew radioed the laser location to ground officers, who found Bradley Alan Steffes, 29, of Brandon, FL. He told officers he was playing with the laser and pointing it at random objects. A search of his pickup truck revealed a laser pointer and the drug items.
The 18-county Tampa division of the FBI recorded 102 laser/aircraft incidents in 2013.
From the Tampa Bay Times
UPDATED June 27 2014: Steffes was indicted by a federal grand jury on June 26 2014. From the Tampa Bay Times
David Walter Fee, 22, was charged with aiming a powerful green laser pointer at Air 43, a CHP aircraft. The pilot suffered temporary blindness and the aircraft was forced to break away from investigating a burglary in progress. Also charged along with Fee was Andrew Zarate, 20, also of Fresno. The disposition of his case is not known.
Fee faces up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines when sentenced.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Fresno Office, California Highway Patrol, and Fresno Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen A. Escobar and Michael G. Tierney prosecuted the case.
From the Fresno Bee and the April 10 2014 U.S. Attorney’s Office press release about the indictment of Fee and Zarate.
UPDATED August 11 2014 - Zarate pleaded guilty to aiming a laser pointer at a California Highway Patrol airplane. He was scheduled to be sentenced November 3 2014. Fee pleaded guilty to the same offense in June and was scheduled to be sentenced August 25 2014. From an August 11 2014 U.S. Attorney’s Office press release about Zarate’s guilty plea.
UPDATED September 29 2014 - Fee was sentenced to 18 months in prison, plus two years of supervised release. From KMJ Now.
UPDATED November 3 2014 - Zarate was sentenced to one year in prison, plus two years of supervised release. From Ars Technica and ABC30.
Gabriel Soza Ruedas Jr.
The 25-year-old faces up to five years in federal prison, and up to a $250,000 fine if convicted.
From KEYE TV
UPDATED - July 7 2014: Ruedas entered a guilty plea in Federal court in Austin. No sentencing date has been set. Ruedas faces up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. From SFGate, KEYE TV and the Austin American-Statesman.
UPDATED - October 2 2014: Ruedas was sentenced to two years in prison, plus three years probation after his release. From KTBC and the Austin American-Statesman.
UPDATED - October 9 2014: Austin TV station FOX 7 obtained video from the AIR-1 helicopter, showing the Frbruary laser strike and the arrest. From MyFOXaustin.
On December 30 2012, an AirTran pilot reported that a green light was in his cockpit as he flew about 10 miles west of Palm Beach International Airport. A police helicopter sent to investigate was also affected by the light.
Fischer was located by ground officers, who reported that the man told them “he didn’t think it was serious and he was just being dumb.”
Michael R. Fischer
On April 18 2014, Fischer pleaded not guilty to a federal charge of pointing a laser at an aircraft. At that time, prosecutors said he could face a six-month sentence according to a story in the Sun Sentinel. It is not known why Fischer pleaded guilty on May 21 2014, although it may have been a plea bargain to further reduce his sentence.
Original arrest story, Jan 2 2013 from WPBF. Guilty plea story, May 21/22 2014 from the Sun Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post. Update information below from a phone conversation, July 31 2014.
UPDATE -- July 31 2014: Fischer told LaserPointerSafety.com that he was sentenced July 29 in Fort Lauderdale, to two years probation and 50 hours of community service. He said, “What kept me out of jail was not having a [prior criminal] background. “ Fischer described his guilty plea as part of an agreement that helped to reduce the sentence. He said aiming the laser, which he bought for $5 from Amazon.com, at an airplane was “the worst mistake of my life. Now I am a convicted felon.”
In addition, the FAA is considering civil charges against him, for interfering with a flight crew. The fine would be up to $11,000 per violation.
According to Fischer, up until his arrest, he was unaware that lasing aircraft was hazardous or illegal. He urged that laser labels, product packaging, and marketing materials should be required to warn users against aiming at aircraft. His warning for others was “Don’t think you’re not going to get caught, because if you do it you’re going to get caught.”
Finally, Fischer said “Please let people know I would like to apologize to the pilots, the airline, and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s office.”
(Note: Fischer expressed similar sentiments in an interview with the Sun Sentinel, posted July 31 2014.)
The pilot, flight instructor Jessica Ward, was teaching a student to land at Cape Fear Regional Jetport when the incident occurred. She said the laser tracked her aircraft, twice temporarily blinding her and the student. “It refracted in the bubble and lit up like a light bulb,” she told station WECT. She said “I said you know what, this is a real threat that needs to be handled.... I just thought this seemed like a bad dream. I can’t believe this is about to happen to us at this airport in this community, and sure enough, it did.”
Funk was charged with a Class H felony for pointing a laser at an aircraft. He could receive five to six months in prison. Funk had previously been convicted for offenses including felony larceny, possession of burglary tools, damage to property, violation of probation, and driving while impaired.
From WECT and State Port Pilot
UPDATED - May 11 2015: Funk pleaded guilty in federal court to the charge of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. He had been out on bail and will remain free until his sentencing, scheduled for on August 3 2015. Funk could receive up to five years in prison, and up to a $250,000 fine. From StarNewsonline.com
UPDATED - November 4 2015: Funk was sentenced in federal court to five years probation and 200 hours of community service. From WNCN and PortCityDaily.com.
US: UPDATED Two California men arrested for aiming laser at plane, 1 also charged with drug possession
The evening before, a pilot was temporarily disoriented by a green laser at about 9:18 pm while landing at Tehachapi Airport. The pilot reported the laser illumination to police. A Tehachapi Police Department officer arrived and was flown around the area by the pilot. The plane was again targeted. The source, a residence, was identified. The plane landed again, and police went to get a warrant to search the residence.
A few hours later, at 3:20 am, police served the search warrant. They found the laser device along with a half pound of methamphetamine worth $20,000, cash totaling $1,400, scales and drug paraphernalia, and an 8 mm Mauser rifle and ammunition.
Arrested were Daniel Roy Mahler, 47, and Mario Guillermo Manero, 52. Both were charged with discharging a laser at an occupied aircraft. In addition, Mahler was charged with possession of controlled substance for sales, and maintaining a drug house.
UPDATED April 13 2015: In February 2015, Manero pleaded no contest. [The penalty, if any, was not stated in the news story.] He was arrested again in April 2015 for possession of child pornography, found during a firearms compliance check. A search warrant was obtained and several items were seized to try and identify potential victims. From the Bakersfield Californian.
Authorities did not have any additional details about the charge, or about who actually pointed the laser at the aircraft.
From the Toledo Blade
UPDATED - August 28 2014: Deal was sentenced on August 25 2014 to one month in prison followed by two years of probation, for the charge fof making a false statement or representation to a department or agency of the United States. From the Toledo Blade
Prior to this, the longest sentence anywhere in the world for a laser/aircraft incident was four years, handed down in January 2010 to Jamie Allen Downie. For more information, see the page Sentences for laser offenses and click the tags on the left side to find jail terms of 0-6 months, 7-12 months, 13-24 months, 25-36 months, 37-48 months, and over 4 years.
UPDATED June 24 2015: Rodriguez’s 14-year sentence for reckless endangerment was overturned by an appeals court, saying there was no evidence that he had harmful intent as required by the law.
Based on the government’s sentencing recommendation, 8 years of Rodriguez’s sentence were imposed for the laser violation, and an additional 6 years were due to Rodriguez’s prior criminal history of gang affiliation and numerous probation violations.
In addition, the government told the judge that “[s]entencing Rodriguez to a substantial prison term will send an important deterrent message that could not be more timely.”
The government stated at one point that Rodriguez should receive 20 years to life imprisonment based on its analysis, but they would be satisfied with 14 years.
Rodriguez’s lawyer countered that the guidelines had been misapplied and the sentence should be only 57 months (4 3/4 years). The lawyer contended that Rodriguez was in his backyard, playing with the laser to see how far it could go and he had no knowledge of laser/aircraft hazards.
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US: UPDATED - California man sentenced to 14 years for aiming 65 mW laser at Fresno police helicopter
The 14-year sentence is the longest ever imposed for lasing an aircraft, anywhere in the world. Rodriguez’s lawyer unsuccessfully argued that a term of 57 months (4 3/4 years) would be “harsh, but ... is arguably a just punishment.” The previous longest sentence was 4 years for Jamie Allen Downie, sentenced in January 2010.
Sergio Patrick Rodriguez
Federal sentencing guidelines take into account the crime itself as well as the defendant’s criminal history. U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill said at sentencing that Rodriguez was “a walking crime spree.” Based on the government’s sentencing recommendation, 8 years of the sentence were imposed for the laser violation, and an additional 6 years were due to Rodriguez’s prior criminal history of gang affiliation and numerous probation violations.
A more detailed analysis of the 14-year sentence is here.
The Rodriguez case began August 25 2012 when a helicopter from the Children’s Hospital of Central California was illuminated by a green laser. Fresno Police Department’s Air 1 was sent to investigate.
It was repeatedly and deliberately struck by the light. The beam was traced back to Rodriguez, now 26, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23. Pilots from both helicopters said the laser strikes caused significant visual interference.
The laser’s power was later measured as 65 milliwatts. This is 13 times the 5 mW limit for lasers marketed as “pointers” in the U.S. This 13x power increase leads to a 3.6 times increase in the distance at which Rodriguez’s laser was a hazard (see Note 1).
US: UPDATED - Las Vegas area man, previously convicted of aiming lasers at helicopters, does it again six times
James David Zipf had been convicted in Phoenix, Arizona in 2011 for aiming a blue laser at police helicopters. In May 2013 he moved to Henderson, Nevada, 12 miles from Las Vegas.
The indictment stated that Zipf aimed a laser at Las Vegas Metro Police helicopters six times between January 31 and February 12 2014. In one of the attacks, the pilot was so disoriented that he landed the aircraft and ended his shift.
At a detention hearing, Zipf was ordered to remain in jail. The judge said he had endangered the helicopter crews, was a threat to the community, was not truthful to federal agents, and was using drugs.
Zipf faces up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines for each of the six counts.
From the Las Vegas Review-Journal, MyNews3 and CBS Las Vegas
UPDATED - September 24 2014: Zipf was sentenced to two years in prison. He also must undergo mental health and substance abuse treatment. A news reported noted that one of the flight officers in a February 3 2014 incident experienced a severe headache. From KLAS-TV
US: UPDATED - Ohio man pleads not guilty to lasing news helicopter; judge orders him to stay away from lasers
Vecchiarelli, 46, was accused of aiming a green laser pointer at a news helicopter that was covering a high school football game on October 11 2013. The pilot said he saw the light several times. Police found Vecchiarelli in his driveway with a police scanner and a laser pointer. They said he confessed and gave them the laser.
News reports at the time said he was arrested on a charge of interfering with a flight crew. It is not known what happened to that charge.
He is currently free on $10,000 bond.
From WFMJ.com and TribToday
UPDATED July 29 2014: Vecchiarelli pleaded guilty to one count of interfering with an aircraft, during a July 24 2014 hearing in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. In return, a charge of obstructing official business was dropped. He will be sentenced later on the interference charge. From WFMJ.com.
UPDATED October 3 2014: Vecchiarelli was sentenced on October 2 2014 to probation for five years, has to do 200 hours of community service, must write an apology to his victims, has to pay a $1,000 fine, has an 11 pm curfew, and must stay out of liquor establishments. If he violates his probation, he could go to prison for eight years. From WFMJ.com.
Carl Floyd said “I was freaking out. At first, I didn't know what was going on, then they told me what was going on and I first I denied it because I was nervous. It was 100 percent accident, not intentional, to hit an aircraft or put anybody else in danger.”
The helicopter pilot said he was hit three or four times by the green laser light, and that he doesn’t believe it was an accident.
Floyd’s case will go to a grand jury, which will decide whether to indict him on federal charges with a potential penalty of up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.
A map of the Tulsa area showing recent (2013) laser incidents
From NewsOn6.com and Tulsa World
UPDATED November 13 2014 - A federal jury deadlocked in July 2014. During the trial, Floyd said he was aiming at objects such as a cell tower, a mailbox and a tree, and he did not knowingly illuminate the helicopter. Just before a second trial in November, he made a plea agreement where he pleaded guilty; saying he “knowingly aimed the beam of a laser pointer at the flight path of a helicopter that I was aware was flying nearby.” He said he had suffered severe injuries in a July 21 2014 motorcycle accident. The prosecution agreed that in light of his medical condition, a probationary sentence be imposed. Sentencing is scheduled for February 20 2015. From the Tulsa World.
Police said that 18-year-old Andrew Decker hit the Air One helicopter at least four times. Ground officers arrested Decker, a college student, with the laser still in his hand.
In a statement emailed to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Decker said he was sorry and did not realize that what he was doing was dangerous. He said a neighbor tried to warn him it was a crime but he did not hear the man due to New Year’s celebratory firecrackers going off in his neighborhood of Holly Hill, a few miles north of Daytona Beach.
Decker wrote, “I just got that new laser and wanted to see how far the light would go. I would never do anything to hurt anyone. I just want to tell the helicopter pilot how sorry I am.”
His mother, a News-Journal employee, told the paper “I think it’s pretty clear he didn’t understand the severity of the situation.”
From the Daytona Beach News-Journal
UPDATED February 11 2014: Decker’s lawyer, David Damore, negotiated a pretrial intervention deal with prosecutors. Decker will pay a fine, do community service, and apologize in writing to the helicopter pilot. Upon completion of these actions, the charges will be dismissed. Damore said “Andrew is a good kid. This young man had no idea what he was doing and just wanted to see how far the light would go.” From the Daytona Beach News-Journal
On August 25 2012, an emergency transport helicopter from the Children’s Hospital of Central California reported being illuminated by laser beams. The police helicopter was sent to investigate. They too were struck. Rodriguez and Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23, were located and arrested.
During the three-day December 2013 trial, pilots from both helicopters said that the laser strikes caused significant visual interference. Evidence presented indicated that the laser was “13 times more powerful than the permissible power emission level for hand-held laser devices.”
Sentencing was scheduled for March 10 2014. The interference charge has a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The aiming charges each have a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Clovis and Fresno Police Departments, Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Assistant United States Attorneys Karen A. Escobar and Michael G. Tierney prosecuted the case.
From KERO ABC. LaserPointerSafety.com previously covered the March 2013 indictment. The press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California is here.
UPDATED March 10 2014: Rodriguez was sentenced to 14 years in prison, on the charge of interfering with an aircrew. Coleman will be sentenced May 12 2014 and could receive up to five years on the aiming charge.
UPDATED June 24 2015: Rodriguez’s 14-year sentence for reckless endangerment was overturned by an appeals court, saying there was no evidence that he had harmful intent as required by the law.
Note from LaserPointerSafety.com: Assuming the article meant the laser was 13 times more powerful than the permissible power emission level for laser pointers, then the laser would have been 65 milliwatts. (The maximum for lasers marketed as “pointers” in the U.S. is 4.99 mW; there is no maximum for hand-held laser devices which are not marketed as pointers.) For a standard divergence of 1 milliradian, a 65 mW laser has the following hazard distances: It can be a nominal eye hazard up to 190 feet from the laser, causes flashblindness up to 890 feet away, causes interfering glare up to 4,000 feet away, and is a distraction up to 39,600 feet (7.5 miles) away.
Two days later, one of the pilots’ doctor said the aviator is experiencing migraines and “short-term damage” and has been forced to take the week off. Dr. Marc Brockman of the Florida Vision Institute said there will not be long-term damage. He noted that “If this were an industrial laser, it only takes a split second [to do damage]. The doctor also said the laser perpetrator’s aim does not have to be accurate because the eye is naturally drawn to bright lights.
Jacob Finch of West Palm Beach, Florida, told TV news stations that he was using a green laser pointer to exercise his dog. He said “I guess the laser got over that fence and shot out.” Finch lives in the path of the airport, and was using the laser at about the same time as the reported incident, around 7 pm on December 9 2013.
Finch indicated he had no idea of the danger and would not do it again: “Oh my gosh, this possibly hurt somebody? I mean we were oblivious.... I feel horrible. It could have hurt somebody. No more lasers.”
As of December 14, there were no news reports indicating any arrests or other progress in the case from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
From WPTV.com, WWLP.com and WFLX.com
US: UPDATED - News reports quote helicopter pilot who suffered two burned corneas from 1995 laser exposure
Reporter Jim Avila: “We also spoke to helicopter pilot Steve Robertson who suffered two burned corneas from a laser attack.”
Robertson: “You take the vision out from a pilot, that aircraft’s ability to land is greatly compromised.”
A Google search turned up three stories about Robertson’s injury. A November 2010 Glendale News-Press article included the following:
Glendale Police Sgt. Steve Robertson is all too familiar with the consequences of pointing a laser at a helicopter.
Robertson's corneas were severely burned 15 years ago when his police helicopter was flashed with lasers. He said it felt similar to being hit by a baseball bat.
"It's no different than pointing a gun or shooting at a police officer," he said. "It could have the same outcome."
Robertson said he avoided crashing because he was flying with another pilot.
After being struck by the laser, Robertson was taken to a nearby hospital, where doctors scraped his corneas. He returned to work four days later and still has 20/20 vision, he said.
Robertson's injury was the last laser-related injury to the department's helicopter pilots.
A January 2011 NPR report also has information about the incident and injury:
Glendale Police Sgt. Steve Robertson remembers the first time he encountered a laser strike. He says his helicopter was hit by a powerful beam of green light one night while he was on patrol.
"It immediately [lit] up the whole cockpit and it hit both of my eyes and burned both of my corneas," says the veteran pilot. "Instantly, I was blinded. It felt like I was hit in the face with a baseball bat — just an intense, burning pain."
Robertson was momentarily incapacitated and would have crashed if his co-pilot hadn't been able to land the chopper. He recovered from his injuries. But since that incident back in the mid '90s, Robertson says he and his fellow police pilots in Glendale have been targeted dozens of times by people shining cheap, easy-to-buy lasers.
Sources: Dec. 10 2013 video report from ABC News. Nov. 2010 story from the Glendale News-Press. Jan. 2011 story from NPR. Not quoted above is a Feb. 2013 ABC News story; it may have used the same interview clip as the Dec. 2013 ABC News story.
UPDATED JUNE 20 2014: Another story referencing Robertson’s claim of two burned corneas is from CBS Los Angeles on June 19 2014.
The incident happened at about 7 pm, while JetBlue flight 521 was on approach to Palm Beach International Airport. Information from the sheriff’s office said that at 1,700 feet the pilot saw a very bright, constant green laser enter the windscreen. He believed he was intentionally tracked. He had to shield his eyes to continue trying to land the plane.
The sheriff’s office said “Thankfully they were able to land the jet safely.” The beam was thought to be from the northeast corner of two roads, but the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit did not come up with anything.
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When Ron Tubbs failed to surface from his dive off Kaena Point, Oahu, his dive partner contacted the Honolulu Fire Department. A helicopter was sent to search; first from the Fire Department and later a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter.
As the skies grew dark, Tubbs saw one or both helicopters but they were searching too close to shore. He pulled out a green laser pointer and aimed in the direction of the aircraft. (News stories are not clear as to which helicopter, or perhaps both, Tubbs aimed at.)
Tubbs later said, “When it got dark I think they finally realized they saw the beam of the laser way off in the distance and [I] took care not shine it in their eyes or anything, but in their direction and it reflects off the moisture in the air, so it makes a pretty big beam.”
Ron Tubbs, diver rescued by aiming laser at helicopter to get its attention
Tubbs demonstrates the laser
The laser worked to get the aircrews’ attention. Tubbs was rescued by the Coast Guard helicopter after about four hours in the water, and was taken to a decompression chamber.
Coast Guard Lt. Chris McAndrew said “With how dark it was last night, it would have been impossible to see him unless we were right on top of him, knew exactly where he was. The way were able to find him so quickly was because he had some kind of signaling device.”
From Hawaii News Now, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and the Huffington Post
UPDATED February 11 2014: Ron Tubbs wrote to LaserPointerSafety.com, to give advice for anyone who might use a laser to attract rescuers:
“The green laser saved my life. The failure of my other safety gear put me in a very serious position. My physical condition was failing quickly. I was vomiting when they picked me up from over four miles from the search area. Any delay due to the use of my laser to get help was very serious.
“My life was depending on the Coast Guard and Fire Department rescuers. To hurt those who are saving other people's lives with a by shining a laser at them is very serious and could have cost me my life.
“The Coast Guard pilot who saved my life reported to me that the green laser and/or any LED light is not seen with their night vision goggles. Three of the four crew were wearing those goggles.
“I will never scuba dive without my green laser again and have it as a safety device. Even so because night vision goggles do not see LED light I would suggest a nice expensive strobe and very bright flashlight (not LED) too or flares as the main signal device in addition to the laser. Also the Fire Department helicopter would not go near a laser as they have only have one pilot and a glass helicopter floor.
“To shine a laser towards a helicopter could actually cause the rescue to be delayed. Also shining the laser right into their eyes could blind the ones you need to rescue you so be very careful if you do use one to get help. Do not put those trying to rescue you at risk too. Shining in their direction and not at them will work well enough.
“Thanks to those who saved my life. Please all do not put them at risk further by shining a laser at them! “
Stephen Francis Bukucs, who worked as a private security guard
An AP report said Bukucs pleaded not guilty. He told a judge that he pointed at aircraft over 25 times “for excitement, for thrills”. He would listen to the resulting law enforcement response on a police scanner.
The judge ordered a mental health evaluation for Bukucs, who has no prior criminal record.
UPDATED October 25 2013: Bukucs was identified through sophisticated surveillance coordinated by the FBI, according to a search warrant application detailing the operation. Begun in August 2013, it involved the use of video-equipped aircraft to identify the laser source, secret cameras installed to monitor Bukucs’ apartment, and physical surveillance by Special Agents. An account of the operation is here.
UPDATED March 17 2015: Bukucs was sentenced to six months in federal prison on March 16 2015, with an additional three years probation after his release. Bukucs had pleaded guilty on July 15 2014 to aiming at two commercial airliner flights. Bukucs confessed to the FBI that, over several months, he had targeted up to 25 aircraft and that he did so for entertainment and as a “cat-and-mouse” game with the police who pursued him. According to the U.S. District Attorney, the laser beam Bukucs had was a high-powered version, not the type used in an office presentation.
His arrest occurred after intense air and ground surveillance by FBI agents and police officers. A task force involving the FBI, Portland police, Port of Portland police and other agencies, flew two airplanes as decoys in August 2013 to try and draw out the perpetrator. Investigators reported over 100 laser strikes from the vicinity of defendant’s apartment in 2013.
Prosecutors sought a two year sentence. The judge granted leniency (six months) because Bukucs was suffering from mental illness. His girlfriend had died from a seizure, leading him to abuse prescription painkillers and to deliberately target aircraft with the laser pointer. In court, Bukucs apologized and said he was ashamed. He knew the laser could annoy pilots but denied he had malicious intent: “I was just being stupid. I look back now and I'm so embarrassed by my actions." From a March 17 2015 FBI press release (reprinted below), a July 15 2014 Oregonian news story, a March 16 2015 Oregonian news story, and an AP report in the Greenfield Reporter.
The helicopter had been conducting a training exercise. The laser light went in the pilots’ eyes and disoriented them. The pilot thought he was under attack. In a statement to the court, he wrote: “My first thought was that we would soon hear and feel the impact of bullets hitting the helicopter. At our altitude we had no way of knowing it was a laser pointer, not a weapon…. Why someone would choose to target any aircraft, much less one performing critical work for the public is beyond my understanding.”
From The Monitor. An press release about the sentence, issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas on September 25 2013, is here. The original LaserPointerSafety.com report of the March 7 2013 incident is here.
The name of the suspect was not immediately provided.
From U-T San Diego and CBS8.com
UPDATED September 19 2013: The man arrested was identified as Abel Becerril. A news story from ABC 10 includes video from the ABLE helicopter. There were two men in a parking lot, who hit the helicopter more than seven times. They then separately ran away, tossing the laser pointer during their run. Becerril will be charged with a felony. According to San Diego police, laserings of their helicopter happen “several times a week.” From ABC 10news.com (story, video and still photo shown below).
Fifteen minutes later, the 105 passengers and five crew members on the Boeing 737 landed in Spokane. Emergency services came on board and did not find any fire, heat or smoke but did find the burn holes.
Alex Philip Langloys Miller of Minneapolis was arrested by FBI agents and was charged with willful damage to an aircraft. He was released on $10,000 bond.
From the Telegraph, the Spokesman-Review and the Aviation Herald. A photo of the airplane involved, Sun Country Airlines registration number N716SY, is here.
UPDATED October 22 2013: The Island Guardian published more details about the incident. The smoke was first smelled by a passenger who had previously worked as a flight attendant. She notified a crew member. In looking for the source, they saw “a small bright blue light for a moment under one of the seats.” Another passenger thought they saw a person holding a laser between his legs. The suspicious person went to the restroom and returned. The plane made an emergency diversion to Spokane. After landing, a “greeting committee of police, airline officials and the FBI” found burn holes in the seat in front of the suspicious passenger, and found two lasers in the bathroom trash. From a September 13 2013 article in the Island Guardian.
The Lexington, Kentucky man was sentenced to 12 months in jail; 30 days will be served while the remaining 11 months will be probated for two years. He is also required to complete 100 hours of community service, and to forfeit his gun and laser.
French avoided federal criminal prosecution (with a potential penalty of up to 5 years in prison and up to $250,000 fine) by pleading guilty in state court. He still may face civil fines imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
From Lex18.com and Kentucky.com. The original LaserPointerSafety.com story of his August 13 2013 arrest is here.
WTVR quoted a nearby resident as saying she heard the crash around 2:30 am, but there were no police on the scene until around 7 am. The road was closed until 2:30 pm while police investigated. The resident said there had been four fatal crashes on the road near her home in the past few years.
Matthew L. Farr
Farr had been charged with one misdemeanor count of interfering with the operation of an aircraft by aiming a green laser beam at a Virginia State Police Cessna 182 patrol aircraft. The pilot had temporary pain, according to a police spokesperson. Farr’s court date had been set for later in September 2013.
From WRIC, WTVR, NBC12.com, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The original LaserPointerSafety.com item about Farr’s July arrest is here.
UPDATED August 26 2013: WKYT interviewed the helicopter pilot, Sgt. Scott May. He told the station he was “shocked” when he heard the laser was attached to a loaded 9mm pistol. He said “When you combine the two elements of laser and gun, it’s quite alarming to us…. Now, the next time this happens, we’ve got to step back and say, ‘Is there a gun attached to this laser.’ “ From WKYT
UPDATED September 10 2013: French pleaded guilty on September 4 2013. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail; 30 days will be served while the remaining 11 months will be probated for two years. He is also required to complete 100 hours of community service, and to forfeit his gun and laser. Additional details are here.
The pilot continued to fly in the area, to locate the laser, and was illuminated again. Farr was arrested by officers on the ground after a search of about 45 minutes.
Matthew L. Farr
Police said the laser was “ten times more powerful than the average store bought device.” [Assuming store laser pointers are below the FDA limit of 5 mW, that would put Farr’s laser at 50 mW. The beam from such a laser would cause visual interference at distances 3.16 times greater than a 5 mW pointer.]
WTVR spoke to Farr, who admitted shining the laser “only briefly” and said he was surprised “when the cavalry arrived” at his home.
If convicted on the misdemeanor, Farr could face up to a year in jail and up to a $2,500 fine. Federal charges could also be filed.
From NBC12.com, WTVR CBS 6, and the Washington Post
UPDATED September 3 2013: Farr died in an automobile accident at around 2:30 am on September 2 2013. His SUV went off the road and hit a tree on a road near his home. More information is here.
UPDATED January 28 2014 -- Krzysztofiak pleaded guilty on Jan 27 2014 to one count of aiming a laser pointer at a helicopter, a felony charge. He will be sentenced on May 6 2014. From Vindy.com
UPDATED August 26 2016 — Krzysztofiak was sentenced to three years probation, nine months home monitoring, and 200 hours of community service. He also was required to submit to regular drug and alcohol testing, and to be in a detoxification program. However, on August 24 2016, Krzysztofiak was sentenced to two years in federal prison for violating his probation. The nature of the violation was not listed in court records. From WFMJ.COM
Click to read more...
The sentencing came a little over one year after the July 11 2012 lasings in which Smith -- 29 at the time -- aimed a red laser pointer at a Southwest Airlines aircraft, and subsequently six or seven times at an Omaha police department helicopter that was trying to find the perpetrator. The conviction and sentence appear to be for the helicopter incident only.
In addition, Omaha.com reported that Smith had previously been fined $9,000 by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
For the July 11 2012 incident, he could have received a five-year sentence and a fine of up to $250,000.
More information is in our stories on the original search for Smith and on his April 24 2013 conviction.
From KETV, WOWT News and Omaha.com. Thanks to Jack Dunn, Greg Makhov and John Neff for bringing this to our attention.
UPDATED June 27 2014 - A federal appeals court upheld the two-year sentence. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Michael Smith’s assertion that he didn’t believe the laser would reach the aircraft. The court said the February 14 2012 federal law doesn’t require prosecutors to show that he intended to hit the aircraft. From The Republic.
US: UPDATED - Pilot of crashed 777 first says he was blinded by a light; then retracts any vision effects
During a press conference on July 10, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board revealed the pilot’s statement. Deborah Hersman was asked specifically if it could have been a laser pointed from the ground. She replied “We really don’t know at this point what it could have been. We need to look into it. We need to understand what he’s talking about. We may need to follow up with him.”
Hersman described the flash as only “a temporary issue”, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
From USA Today (initial story; story about laser hazards), SFGate, and ABC News.
UPDATED July 11 2013: NTSB chair Deborah Hersman gave additional details indicating that the light was not a laser and did not interfere with the pilot’s vision.
Click to read more...
A police evidence technician displays the laser pointer that was confiscated. The Omaha World-Herald reported that the laser emits red light.
On July 11 2012, a Southwest Airlines pilot was lased as he came in for a landing in Omaha. Subsequently, an Omaha Police Department helicopter was also lased six or seven times, with the pilot reporting being temporarily blinded. Smith was arrested in his backyard by a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy.
From KETV and Omaha.com. LaserPointerSafety.com originally reported on this in July 2012, when police had not yet arrested Smith. The photo above is from that story.
UPDATED July 22 2013: Michael Smith was sentenced to two years in federal prison to be followed by a 3-year term of supervised release. He was the first person in Nebraska indicted under the February 14 2012 federal law which made it illegal to aim a laser at an aircraft. From KETV and WOWT News.
On May 18 2012, Michael Brandon Smith, then 35 years old, aimed a green laser beam at a St. Louis Metro Air Support helicopter that was investigating a burglary. The beam illuminated the cockpit several times. The vision of the pilot and observer was affected; the observer later said he had short-term vision problems. Ground units arrested Smith -- still with the laser in his hand -- at his residence in O’Fallon, Missouri. The incident diverted the helicopter from the burglary investigation.
Smith pleaded guilty in federal court in November 2012 to one felony count of aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft.
From STLtoday.com and The Republic. The story was originally briefly reported in LaserPointerSafety.com.
As of March 25, Gardenhire remains free on bond pending an appeal hearing in April 2013.
Gardenhire’s photo on Facebook, according to the blog LA Weekly.com
On March 29 2012, the North Hollywood teenager aimed a laser beam from his backyard at a Cessna that was landing at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. The pilot had vision problems lasting about a day, after being lased multiple times in the eye. The Pasadena Police Department sent a helicopter to investigate. Gardenhire again aimed at the craft, hitting the pilot six times. The pilot had protective equipment and was not injured.
Gardenhire lased the aircraft from his backyard (A) about 1.5 miles from the airport (black square).
According to his attorney, Gardenhire was unaware of the hazard: “[He] had no idea that the deceptively ordinary laser he had borrowed from a friend was powerful enough to be seen by, much less distract, a pilot thousands of feet away…. [A] severe sentence would be disproportionate to the conduct.”
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Mills said Gardenhire told FBI agents that the friend who loaned him the laser told him not to shine it at anyone’s eyes because it would blind people. She said Gardenhire telling the FBI he didn't think about the dangers doesn't mean he wasn't aware of the dangers and responsible for the consequences.
"One can imagine a drunk driver making the same excuse - that he just 'didn't think about the dangers' of getting behind the wheel in an impaired state. But disregarding a clear risk does not absolve one of responsibility for assuming it," Mills said, according to the Pasadena Star-News.
Gardenhire was arrested in April 2012. He was the second person indicted under the Feb. 2012 federal law making it illegal to aim at an aircraft or the flight path of an aircraft. (The first person was Orlando resident Glenn Stephen Hansen.) He and pleaded guilty in October 2012. He could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison under the federal law. U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson said in court that he sentenced Gardenhire to 30 months so as to send a message to other people.
From CNN, Pasadena Star-News, Los Angeles Daily News, Wired and Burbank Leader. LaserPointerSafety.com previously covered this story in March 2012 when the initial incident was reported, and in April 2012 when Gardenhire was indicted.
One of the defendants’ lawyers said the charges were overkill. KGET reported that David Torres, attorney for Brett Lee Scott, said “The penalty in the federal system with respect to this particular crime, doesn't fit at all. And, I think that when you look historically as to why this particular crime was enacted, it was enacted because of folks like Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and folks that have these laser-guided missiles, things of that nature, where they didn't want folks pointing guided lasers up in the air, things of that nature. But, here you have teenagers doing this from time to time or other individuals who are unaware of what the law is.”
- Brett Lee Scott, 25, of Bakersfield CA. Alleged to have flashblinded sheriff’s office helicopter pilots for “minutes”, and causing disorientation. The laser strikes came over a 3-month period.
- Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, aka Javier Rodrigues, 26, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23, both of Clovis CA. Alleged to have deliberately targeted a medical helicopter from the Children’s Hospital Central California, as well as a police helicopter sent to investigate.
- Charles Conrad Mahaffey, 22, of Clovis CA. Alleged to have aimed a red laser at a sheriff’s office helicopter, causing a law enforcement mission to be called off.
Additional details are in a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, reprinted below (click the “Read More…” link).
From KGET and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California
UPDATED November 4 2013: Charles Conrad Mahaffey pleaded guilty to the federal charge. He will be sentenced on January 27 2014.
UPDATED December 20 2013: Sergio Patrick Rodriguez was found guilty of attempting to interfere with a police helicopter. He and his girlfriend Jennifer Lorraine Coleman were also found guilty of aiming a laser pointer at the police helicopter. They will be sentenced March 10 2014.
UPDATED May 12 2014: Jennifer Lorraine Coleman was sentenced to two years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Brett Lee Scott pleaded guilty and will be sentenced July 21 2014. From the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California
Click to read more...
The entire video from the Air One helicopter can be seen here at YouTube.
The incident was captured on video. Above is a still frame from the video, showing the maximum laser impingement on the camera. (It should be noted that this is a very brief and atypical freeze frame; for most of the video the laser is waving around but is not aimed directly into the camera lens.)
When arrested, he was clad only in his boxer shorts. Santodomingo told officers “I wanted to see how far it [the laser’s beam] would go.” Sentencing is scheduled for July 25 2013; he could receive up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
From NBCDFW.com and the Dallas Morning News
UPDATED July 25 2013: Santodomingo was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
A video taken from the police helicopter, showing the laser beams, is here.
James Spiers and Joshua O’Hare-Knight
From the New Zealand Herald and Stuff.co.nz. Thanks to Mark Wardle of NZALPA for bringing the video to our attention. This is an updated story; the original LaserPointerSafety.com news item from May 2011 is here.
Levy, 32, had previously been arrested for a June 30 2012 incident where Levy aimed a laser at least two separate times at a fire truck. She pleaded guilty on October 9 2012, was referred to mental health court, and was released on two years’ probation.
Irene Marie Levy
From SFGate.com and Catholic Online
UPDATED May 3 2013: The man was acquitted January 8 2013 in U.S. District Court . He wrote to LaserPointerSafety.com in May, asking that his name be removed from the above article, due to it causing difficulty when looking for work. We have removed his name and the link URLs out of courtesy, since he was acquitted. The acquittal judgment, with his name redacted, can be viewed here.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION from LaserPointerSafety.com: On May 3 2013, I spoke with the person; for convenience, I will call him "John Doe." The following is his account, based on his perspective.
On July 17 2012 he was on the phone. As he talked, he idly swung his 5 milliwatt green laser pointer back and forth in the sky. He was not aiming at anything, it was just on and swinging.
Later, a police officer came to him saying that a sheriff's department helicopter had said they saw a laser from his location. She asked if he had a laser. Doe said yes, and showed her how he had used it. She felt it was an accident and left. He did not have to surrender the laser.
In August, two FBI agents came to see him. An agent said, "You are being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, as a threat to the United States."
He was charged with a federal felony in late October 2012. When it came to trial on January 8 2013, there were police officers, plus the two FBI agent, and federal prosecutor. They showed a ten-minute video from the helicopter. Doe said you could not see the beam, just a dot that looks like any other light on the ground, which at one point got brighter.
The trial lasted about three hours. The judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence, and he was formally acquitted.
Doe did say, "Definitely people should be very careful as these lasers are not toys, but It would be one thing if my intent was malicious and I had a very powerful laser. Then, calling this a felony and having a five-year penalty would be justified for a high powered laser. There needs to more public awareness on the issue.”
The story did not say whether the helicopter crew broke off their mission, or whether they completed the search before the landing. It also does not give a definition or details of the emergency; for example, whether merely having the laser in the cockpit required an emergency landing under Coast Guard procedures, or whether the crew experienced any vision or operational difficulties.
There have been six laser incidents with Savannah air station-based Coast Guard helicopters in the last year and a half, with four of these occurring during searches.
From CarolinaLive.com. In addition to this story, see additional stories at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach.
UPDATE July 28 2012: A story at Myrtle Beach Online describes the ordeal of the missing boaters, and how lasers twice forced Coast Guard helicopters to break off the search. It also has additional details about Coast Guard procedures once a laser is seen.
Gary Don Carroll
UPDATED — On December 17 2014, Gary Don Carroll was arrested for leaving the scene of a fatal crash that occurred on February 22 2014. A 32-year-old man, Eric Wayne Pope of Lakeland, Florida, was killed while riding his bicycle with reflective vest and lights. Analysis of paint chips, completed December 15, pointed to Carroll’s car as being involved. Carroll was also charged with tampering with evidence, for having his truck’s hood and headlight replaced. Carroll has “an extensive criminal arrest history which includes six felony, four misdemeanor, six unknown level arrests, and two failures to appear. He has been in the Polk County jail 10 times before his current arrest.” From the Daily Ridge
The incident happened early in the morning of July 11 2012 in the backyard of a home in a suburb northwest of Omaha. As of July 16, no arrest had been made.
A police evidence technician displays the laser pointer that was confiscated from the Omaha man. The Omaha World-Herald reported that the laser emits red light.
A spokesperson for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said "We're also told he might have been doing this on prior occasions. And on those occasions, it involved planes flying into Eppley [Airfield]. We're going to be investigating those allegations."
From Fox 42 News, KETV 7 and the Omaha World-Herald
UPDATED April 24 2013: Michael A. Smith, 30, was convicted of the July 11 2012 lasing. Sentencing is scheduled for July 22 2013. More is at this LaserPointerSafety.com story.
UPDATE 2, July 22 2013: Michael A. Smith was sentenced to two years in federal prison followed by a 3-year term of supervised release. He was the first person in Nebraska indicted under the February 14 2012 federal law which made it illegal to aim a laser at an aircraft. From KETV and WOWT News.
From KSDK.com, Riverfront Times, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri
UPDATED April 11 2013: Michael Brandon Smith was sentenced to two year’s probation, two months home confinement and 40 hours of community service. A LaserPointerSafety.com story is here.
- Two counts of interference with flight crew (20 years maximum penalty for each count)
- Two counts of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft (5 years maximum penalty for each count)
- Two counts of assaulting, resisting or impeding federal officers (25 years maximum penalty for each count)
The Virginian-Pilot reported that Bruce aimed lasers at the jets “more than a dozen times” since December 2011. He was annoyed by the their noise. The two counts of assaulting federal officers may be related to Bruce calling the air station to threaten to shoot at the noisy aircraft.
According to a press release, “it is believed that the Eastern District of Virginia is the second jurisdiction to indict” using the new Federal law passed February 14 2012, making it a criminal offense to aim a laser pointer at or near an aircraft.
From the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release, PilotOnline.com, and WAVY.com
UPDATE July 31 2012: Bruce pleaded guilty to one count of interfering with the operation of an aircraft. The other five counts were dropped in exchange for the guilty plea. Bruce will be sentenced October 19 2012. He could receive up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Pilots testified that they saw lasers at least 10 times from the area of Bruce’s house between December 29 2011 and June 5 2012. One of the pilots lased by Bruce reported that direct eye exposure was painful, distracted her during landing, and gave her a headache. A spokesperson for Oceana Naval Air Station said that, of 18 laser incidents in Virginia Beach since December 2011, 12 of the incidents were due to Bruce. There were 12 incidents total in 2011. From the Virginian-Pilot.
The April 21 2012 incident happened in Uxbridge, 75 km northeast of Toronto. It was looking for vandals when struck by a laser numerous times over several minutes. The helicopter set down at a nearby police station, and the pilot was taken to a hospital. He was released with no apparent damage, but a police spokesperson said it could take several days for damage to emerge.
20-year-old Melissa Perry of Uxbridge was arrested, and charged with lessening the ability of a crew member to perform duties, interfering with the duties of a crew member, projecting a bright light at an aircraft, mischief endangering life, assault with a weapon and common nuisance. It is unclear from news reports whether Perry was associated with the vandals.
From DurhamRegion.com, Global Toronto and Canada.com
Analysis from LaserPointerSafety.com: If the laser is really Class 3A (less than 5 mW maximum power), the pilot’s eyes were unharmed. The Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance for a 5 mW laser with a tight 1 milliradian beam is 52 feet. This means that laser safety experts have concluded that no eye injury could occur past 52 feet. If the pilot was airborne, his eyes were likely much farther than 52 feet from the laser. (Global Toronto reported the helicopter was at 5000 feet, but that is very high for vandal surveillance; 500 feet is more reasonable.)
Plus, as explained on the Laser Safety Calculations page, there are additional factors that go into the NOHD. The result of these factors is that a 5 mW laser would have to be within 16.4 feet of a person’s eyes before there was a 50/50 chance of causing a minimally detectable eye injury. This is not opinion; this is scientific fact based on how the NOHD is derived.
UPDATE, NOVEMBER 2012: On September 21 2012, Perry pleaded guilty to one charge of violating the Aviation Act by shining a bright light at an aircraft. She was fined $500. All other charges were dropped by the Crown. From DurhamRegion.com.
Gardenhire had been arrested on state charges at his North Hollywood home about two hours after the March 29 lasing, and had been free on bail while the FBI and other authorities worked on the federal indictment. Each federal count carries a maximum prison term of 5 years, so Gardenhire faces a total of 10 years in prison. He could also be charged under a separate FAA civil suit for interference with an aircraft.
Gardenhire’s photo on Facebook, according to the blog LA Weekly.com
A post on Gardenhire’s Facebook page just before the federal charge said he was going to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in LA: “Twin towers tomorrow... Not looking forward !!!:/ whats poppin though?=)”. A post afterwards said “There on to me o.O”. On Facebook, he stated his Activity as “graffing” (complex graffiti) and his Interests as “Bitches and hoes”.
From 89.3 KPCC, the Glendale News, the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly.com, and 7th Space Interactive.
*The term “commercial-grade” is not a standard term in the laser field. An FBI spokeswoman told LaserPointerSafety.com that the term “was not a technical description but one to differentiate between a small personal laser one might use for an office presentation, as opposed to the kind used in the attack, which might be used for the grand opening of a department store or other commercial enterprise.” It is surprising to LaserPointerSafety.com that a teenager would have such a laser, which would require wall power (110 VAC) and would be bulky and thus harder to aim at an aircraft. We are trying to get more details.
UPDATED, October 29 2012: Gardenhire pleaded guilty to deliberately aiming at multiple aircraft. Sentencing was set for January 2013. From the Burbank Leader.
UPDATED March 26 2013: Gardenhire was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. The judge said he wanted to send a message to others. More details are in a LaserPointerSafety.com story.
Glenn Stephen Hansen
Glenn Stephen Hansen, 49, told arresting FBI agents that he aimed a laser pointer as “stress relief” from “noise anxiety” due to aircraft flying overhead. He had filed over 500 complaints against the noise. He told the agents that airplanes “purposefully flew lower over his house in response to the noise complaints.” He was aware that shining the laser at aircraft was “wrong” but that he “had no idea” that the light could affect the pilots and cause a hazard.
Hansen was arrested March 24 2012 on new federal charges signed into law Feb. 14 by President Obama. He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
LaserPointerSafety.com is not aware of any other person being arrested for so many laser incidents. If Hansen is responsible for 23 incidents, that represents 3.4% of all U.S. incidents, and 96% of all incidents involving Orlando International Airport, during the period in question (from January 1 through March 23).
Hansen was arrested at a home about 7 miles southwest of Orlando International Airport (black square).
Click to read more...
The FBI investigation started after a January 8 2012 incident involving an AirTran departure that was 400 feet in the air when the pilot was flashed with a green light. He was tracked for 30-60 seconds, to an altitude of 2000 feet. The pilot took evasive actions including turning off all lights, making a sharp left turn, and asking for a change of course. The pilot told the FBI “he was concerned he could lose vision on the plane.”
The FBI focused on Hansen due to his previous noise complaints. Because of the accuracy of the laser “hits”, they believed Hansen was tracking flights on public websites. His home was placed under surveillance. At about 9 pm March 23 they observed a green beam coming from his house, shining towards an aircraft. (The pilot stated that the light illuminated the cockpit but did not go directly in his eye.) Hansen was arrested at about 4 am the next morning.
From the Orlando Sentinel and the criminal complaint/search warrant. The text of the U.S. Attorney’s office press release is below (click the “Read More…” link).
Pilot Paul Maddox told Bristol Magistrates’ Court that the light lasted about 15 seconds. An observer crew member said “the shafts of light were moving around the cockpit, restricting me from my task.” They were able to locate Bowering on the ground, where he was arrested. He told officers he had borrowed the laser pen and did not realize the beam would reach to the helicopter. According to his lawyer, Bowering was aware that lasing aircraft was illegal.
From This Is Bristol
Update April 10 2012: Bowering avoided jail “by a whisker” according to the judge, who sentenced him to a 12-month community order. He must attend a Thinking and Skills course, has a 90-day curfew between 9 pm and 6:30 am, and has to repay £200 in court costs. The judge said Bowering had been using the laser to play with his dogs, when he aimed it into the air. The initial illumination of the helicopter was an accident, but then it was repeated, the judge found. The pilot told the court that he had “temporary black spots” in his vision which almost caused him to stray into Bristol Airport’s airspace, which could have caused the diversion of a commercial flight that was on approach. From the Guardian
From This is Bristol
Late in the evening of September 7 2011, 21-year-olds Alex Cox and Luke Fortune aimed a green laser at an air ambulance trying to land in Calne. The men disagreed about whether the laser could reach the helicopter. Cox thought it would; Fortune thought it would not. In court testimony, the men also disagreed about which one of them aimed at the helicopter.
The pilot tried three times to land but could not due to the laser interference. An ambulance was called to pick up the patient, a man in his 70’s suffering a heart attack. It took 25 minutes to reach the Great Western Hospital in Swindon by road; it would have been 10 minutes by air. According to the ambulance service, it was “unlikely” that the helicopter would have been able to reach the hospital in time to save the man.
Cox and Fortune pleaded guilty to directing or shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot. They told the court their actions were stupid and very dangerous, and that they were sorry.
A Daily Mail article about the case has a sidebar listing four “laser pen pests” who received sentences from four to eight months, in cases ranging over the April-November 2011 timeframe.
From the Daily Mail. The original LaserPointerSafety.com news item about the incident, from September 2011, is here.
At his sentencing on February 28 2012, Chang said, “I didn't do that deliberately, it was totally reckless behavior and I didn't realize the serious consequences at all.” He had previously used a laser pointer in his work in Taiwan as a tour guide. The judge agreed the act was not malicious but said it was “extremely dangerous” and Chang had to receive a prison sentence. The judge referred to four similar Australian court cases. She said three offenders were given jail terms and two received suspended sentences.
On a charge of threatening safety of an aircraft, Chang was sentenced to three months in prison, suspended on condition of paying AUD $200 and entering into a 12-month good behavior bond. On a charge of pointing a laser in public, Chang received four months prison; this was also suspended. He was also ordered to pay court costs; the amount was not specified in news articles.
Chang said he expects to leave Australia in April. He said he was grateful for the suspended sentence, thanking the judge and the Australian government.
From The Australian and the Daily Telegraph. The original LaserPointerSafety.com story is here.
Monday is president and CEO of Monday Restaurants LLC, according to STLtoday.
From CBS St. Louis and STLtoday. The original LaserPointerSafety.com news item is here.
UPDATE, NOVEMBER 2012: The two were found guilty on November 10, 2012 according to the New Zealand Herald. It was not stated why the trial was moved from March 13 to November. Sentencing was set for February 2013.
From the New Zealand Herald and MSN NZ. This is an updated story; the original LaserPointerSafety.com news item from May 2011 is here.
18-year-old Pravikash Chandra was arrested and charged with four counts of endangering transport. Each charge has a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
A spokesperson for the Eagle said the crew had lasers pointed at them “all the time. It happens fairly often and it’s a risk to the crew.”
From the New Zealand Herald
UPDATE July 18 2012: Chandra pleaded guilty to all four charges of endangering transport. Sentencing was set for September 2012. A report on the laser’s characteristics, applications, place of purchase and use instructions will be prepared for the judge. From the New Zealand Herald and the Herald Sun.
Christopher Bryan Willingham, of Virginia Beach, said at a press conference after his guilty plea that “It was reckless disregard of the safety. I was unaware of the potential hazards and actually what it looks like to pilots. It emits a lot of light.” He will be sentenced May 18. Willingham could receive 20 years in prison.
Christopher Bryan Willingham
At the press conference, the commander of nearby Naval Air Station Oceana said they are frustrated with laser incidents. There were 13 reports of lasers being used near the base in 2011, plus four reports between January 1 and 25, 2012.
From the Associated Press via the Washington Post, and a detailed press release from the FBI. The “Statement of Facts” in the case, as filed in the U.S. Eastern District Court of Virginia, is here.
UPDATE May 19 2012: On May 18, Willingham was fined $5,000 and was sentenced in federal court to five years probation. From WSET, Williamsburg Yorktown Daily, and PilotOnline.com.
He pleaded guilty on December 8 2011 for aiming a green laser pointer three times at a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter in July. Gable had been expected to receive 200 hours on a work crew, in addition to the jail time. The TMZ.com report did not mention the 200 hours.
From TMZ.com and the Los Angeles Times. LaserPointerSafety.com has additional stories about Gable’s July 28 2011 lasing incident, his August 26 arraignment and his December 8 guilty plea.
The 27-year-old native of Taiwan was charged with threatening the safety of aircraft and the possession of a laser pointer in a public space. He was interviewed through an interpreter and had to surrender his passport. A court date of January 24 was set.
From Mosman Daily and DailyTelegraph.com
UPDATE, January 23 2012 -- Yu-Wei Chang pleaded guilty to threatening the safety of an aircraft, and to possessing a laser pointer in a public place. Chang had previously used the pointer in his job in Taiwan, as a tour guide. His solicitor said Chang did not intend any harm. He did not know it was illegal to possess lasers in New South Wales or to aim at an aircraft. Chang did it due to “New Year’s Eve exuberance.” Chang will be sentenced on February 28. The judge said she needed to get more information about similar cases in Australia, and to consider options other than imprisonment. She did say “there will be some punishment.”
Chang after the guilty plea
UPDATE 2, February 28 2012 - Chang was sentenced to three months in prison on one charge, and four months on another charge. Both prison terms were suspended on condition of paying AUS $200 and entering into a 12-month good behavior bond. Details are here.
From Mosman Daily, 9News and DailyTelegraph.com
The December 27 2011 incident began as the aircraft was hovering 500 feet above the crime scene in Fillmore. A laser beam was aimed at the cockpit. The crew broke off to find the suspect, but was unable to locate them. The helicopter returned to the crime scene where a laser was once again pointed at them. The crew broke off once more. A potential suspect was identified, but ground units determined the person was not involved.
The crew then made the determination that due to the laser aimings it was too dangerous to fly. They ended both the search for the shooting suspect, and the search for the laser perpetrator.
A sheriff’s department spokesperson said there had been several previous laser illuminations of the helicopter in Fillmore. He was unsure whether the Dec. 27 incident was related, but said “I would hope they are related, because if they are not, that would mean there is more than one person doing it.”
From the Ventura County Star
UPDATE December 29 2011 (1:49 PM): An arrest has been made in this case. Torrey Phillips, 20, was arrested on December 28 on an outstanding felony warrant stemming from two criminal threats convictions. Deputies found a green laser in his possession. Bail was set at $40,000. The Ventura County Star story does not state how deputies linked Phillips with the previous evening’s lasing of the sheriff’s department helicopter.
It is about 1600 feet (ground distance) from the helicopter location (open red circle) to Phillips’ home where he was arrested (black square). Address information from KEYT.
US: UPDATED - Clark Gable's grandson pleads guilty; likely to get 10 days in jail and 200 work hours
Gable, 23, is the grandson of actor Clark Gable, famed as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind and for appearing in 66 other movies.
On July 28 2011, Gable was a passenger in a car driving through Hollywood when a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter was struck by a green laser beam. The two officers were temporarily blinded, according to police reports. Ground units were directed to the car by the helicopter. They found a laser pointer later measured to be 52 milliwatts. Gable and the driver, 23-year-old Maximilian Anderson, were arrested. Gable told officers that he had been aiming at the Hollywood sign, but missed.
In late July, Gable told reporters the incident was “a misunderstanding” and that he would learn from his mistake. Gable’s manager said “it wasn’t intentional. Nobody knew it was a felony.”
From Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, and AFP. LaserPointerSafety.com has news items on the July 28 arrest, and on the August 26 arraignment.
UPDATE, January 12 2012: Gable was sentenced to 10 days in jail plus three years probation, according to TMZ.com.
Click to read more...
His lawyer successfully argued that a conviction put Burton’s career plans at risk, as well as his application for New Zealand residency. The judge agreed, stating that the consequences for Burton outweighed the seriousness of the charges. Charges were dropped on October 25 2011.
From Auckland Now. LaserPointerSafety.com previously reported on Burton’s case on September 17 2011.
Pilot Paul Maddox was unable to continue investigating a car crime, and broke off his mission. He and two other officers were dazzled by the laser light. Webster said he aimed the laser for less than 15 seconds; the officers in the helicopter said it was around five minutes.
On September 22, Webster pleaded guilty to recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or person in an aircraft. Sentencing is scheduled for October 14.
A news report said Webster, 45, was a drug user: “He said it had been a crazy day after he went out in the morning to score some heroin, but believes he was instead given ketamine, which didn’t treat him well.”
From This Is The West Country
UPDATE October 19 2011: Webster was sentenced to four months in prison suspended for two years, with a two-year supervision order. He avoided jail because he was the sole caregiver for his 16-year-old son.
The sentencing judge said “The message should go out that people tempted to target helicopters in this idiotic and dangerous way should expect a custodial sentence. It’s absurd that these completely pointless toys are used to distract and disable helicopters engaged in the task of serious public good. You’re very lucky that some serious accident didn’t happen as a result of your action. You’re not going to jail by only the thinnest skin of your teeth. I don’t see why your son – in a very difficult family situation – should have that done as a result of your stupidity.” From This Is The West Country.
In December 2010, James Paul Burton aimed a laser pointer at a police helicopter. Police said Burton -- 19 at the time -- admitted the act and said he did not realize the effect it would have on the pilot. (The Auckland Now story did not say how the incident affected the pilot or the flight.)
On September 16 2011, Burton’s lawyer told the court the act was done stupidly without thinking, after drinking with friends. She asked that Burton be discharged without conviction due to his age and future career plans. In 2007, Burton had arrived in New Zealand with his mother and sister, and all three are applying for residency. A conviction would affect his residency and his ability to find work and travel overseas. In turn, those restrictions could impact his ability to complete his studies in marine biology.
New Zealand does have a seven-year “clean slate” law, but his lawyer argued that Burton needed to complete his studies, apply for residency and find work before 2018.
From Auckland Now
UPDATE OCTOBER 27 2011: The judge agreed with Burton’s lawyer, that the consequences for Burton’s career and residency application outweighed the seriousness of his offense. The charges were dropped. More details are in an October 27 story in Auckland Now.
Late on September 7 2011, paramedics and an ambulance responded to a call about an elderly man who had collapsed in Caine, Wiltshire. They found the man had gone into cardiac arrest, and they called for the assistance of the Wiltshire Air Ambulance helicopter. It landed at the site but then took off again to burn fuel in order to carry the patient. As it tried to land for a second time, a “group of yobs” flashed laser pens at the pilot. He broke off the landing. The patient was then taken by ambulance to Great Western Hospital in Swindon, 20 miles away by road. Upon arrival, the man was pronounced dead after midnight on September 8.
Police said “at this stage, we are satisfied that the helicopter not being able to land did not affect the outcome of this incident.” They are searching for the laser-wielding perpetrators and are beginning a criminal investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call (0845) 4087000.
From The Independent , Wiltshire Times and BBC News
UPDATE September 15 2011: A story in the Gazette and Herald has some additional details about the incident.
UPDATE 2 March 15 2012: The two persons involved, Alex Cox and Luke Fortune, pleaded guilty. They had to pay £278 each and were given a conditional discharge (no punishment provided that no further offense is committed). More details are in a LaserPointerSafety.com news item here.
A Victoria Police spokesman said Melbourne has the highest number of incidents involving laser light, and “these incidents are occurring far too frequently….”
From The Age, Herald Sun and ABC News
UPDATE November 24 2011: Tam Nguyen pleaded guilty on November 24 2011. He was fined a total of AUD $3500. Details are in this LaserPointerSafety.com story.
The charges stem from an incident July 28 where Gable aimed a green laser pointer at a police helicopter, temporarily flashblinding two officers on board.
From TMZ and Reuters
UPDATE August 26 2011: Gable pleaded not guilty to the charges at his August 26 arraignment. He was freed on $250,000 bail. His next court appearance will be September 8, at a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to go to trial. From the Contra Costa Times
UPDATE December 8 2011: Gable pleaded guilty to one felony count of discharging a laser at an aircraft. In return, other counts were dropped. At sentencing January 12 2012, prosecutors are expected to ask for a 10 day jail sentence plus 200 days on a work crew. See news item here.
UPDATE, January 12 2012: Gable was sentenced to 10 days in jail plus three years probation, according to TMZ.com.
According to police spokeswoman Sara Faden, the LAPD helicopter pilots observed “a green laser light shining on them and at that time they requested additional ground units to come to the scene. They observed a vehicle with two occupants and they found the laser that was shined on the airship and they were both taken into custody."Click to read more...
Paresi, 20, faces university judicial board hearings with penalties that could include expulsion. He was also charged by University of Pittsburgh police with two felony counts of “causing or risking a catastrophe.” Finally, an FAA spokesperson said they will pursue civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation.
On July 17 2011, at midnight and again at 3 am, medical evacuation helicopters reported seeing green beams coming from the University’s “Cathedral of Learning” skyscraper. Police confronted a group of students leaving the building after the second laser incident. Parisi, 20, spoke privately to an officer and said that he was the one who had been using a laser pointer.
Parisi was also found to have a fake Virginia driver’s license. He was additionally charged by the police with carrying a false identification card.
The 42-story Cathedral of Learning is the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere. Photo by Flickr user bombnomnom (Anthony Velázquez) under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
UPDATED February 28 2012: Parisi is awaiting trial on two state felony counts of “risking a catastrophe”. He could be fined up to $15,000 and receive up to seven years in prison on each charge. In addition, he faces $11,000 in fines from the FAA on each count. His attorney was quoted as saying “My client is a good kid. He just made a mistake. He obviously regrets anything that happened that night.” From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Rincon was held on $25,000 bail. His lawyer argued, unsuccessfully, that Rincon did not present a danger to the community since he has no previous criminal record.
San Diego police released a video of the laser illumination.
From CBS8 and NBC San Diego. Both sources have video showing the illumination.
UPDATE, July 27 2011: Rincon’s trial was set for September 15, according to NBC San Diego.
UPDATE 2, September 15 2011: Rincon pleaded guilty to the felony charge of discharging a laser at an occupied aircraft. He will be sentenced on September 13 2012. If Rincon does not commit any new crimes during the one-year timespan, the charge will likely be reduced to a misdemeanor. That would reduce his maximum possible sentence from three years in prison (for a felony) to one year in county jail (for a misdemeanor). From Sign On San Diego.
“A” marks the arrest location, about 9 miles from Los Angeles International Airport
LaserPointerSafety.com initially reported this as a “sting” operation, based on an NBC LA report that “the LAPD ran a high-flying sting to pinpoint the location of their two attackers.” However, other news sources indicated that there was no pre-planned effort to draw out laser users. DailyBreeze.com quoted a police spokesman as saying that “a police helicopter on regular patrol was hit with a green laser, and the crew was able to pinpoint the general location of the beam.... A second flight crew that was replacing the first unit brought protective glasses with them based on the earlier reports. The second crew was soon hit with the same green laser, and reported to police on the ground the exact location of the laser.”
The LAPD is contacting the FBI. Additional state and federal charges may be filed.
From DailyBreeze.com, NBC Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and KABC 7.
UPDATE July 28 2011: NoIR informs us that the glasses used were their “GlareShield” models. These were developed with input from LAPD pilots. More on laser protective eyewear for pilots is here.
UPDATE July 26 2012: Floyd Atkins was found guilty of one felony count of pointing laser beams at a helicopter. He will be sentenced August 3 and faces up to three years in prison. Alvaro Jimenez pleaded no contest to the same charge earlier in 2012. From MyNews3.
UPDATE November 1 2012: Floyd Atkins was sentenced on Nov. 1 to one year in county jail and two years probation. He also had to pay $200 in fines and fees. According to the deputy district attorney, Atkins “still doesn’t accept responsibility.” Alvarado Jimenez was sentenced in September 2012 to 60 days of Caltrans service and three years probation. From the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
Five years probation
The judge ruled that Hazlitt’s laser pointer was not a “dangerous weapon” under the circumstances of the case. This finding helped reduce the severity of Hazlitt’s sentence. He could have received up to 20 years in prison for the November 21 2010 green laser pointer illumination, which occurred because he was “tired of hearing” the helicopter.
According to The Ledger, Hazlitt said at the sentencing that “his actions last year [were] the result of ‘very bad judgment.’” He has started a website, laserawareness.us, in order to apologize and to publicize the hazards and potential penalties of laser pointer misuse.
LaserPointerSafety.com carried a story about the original Lakeland laser incident here.
From NewsChief.com and The Ledger
From the Courier Mail and ABC News
UPDATE, June 29 2011: The man, Morgan Daniel Raine, was fined AUS $1000 (USD $1078) on the endangerment charge, plus $300 for possession of ecstasy which was found during a search of his apartment for the laser pointer. Raine said the lasing was stupid and he meant no harm. From the Courier Mail
Fined AUS $1000 for aiming a laser up to five times at a TV helicopter
The arrest site is about 5 miles east of Midway Airport:
From the Chicago Tribune. Thanks to Joanna Skubish for bringing this to our attention.
UPDATE, MARCH 19 2011: The aircraft was a Southwest Airlines flight from San Francisco, with 137 passengers and a crew of five, that was landing at Midway. Police arrested Shania Smith, 21, and Elvin Slater, 23. Smith had just met Slater for the first time earlier that day. Smith said “I don’t know how it got in my car”, and that the first time she saw it was during the arrest, according to the Chicago Tribune. Slater’s uncle said He's a good kid. He just didn't know what he was doing.” Both Smith and Slater were charged with “discharging a laser pointer at a police officer and discharging a laser at an aircraft”, which are misdemeanors.
Google Street View of the intersection where the arrest took place,
looking west towards Midway Airport
From an updated Chicago Tribune article
UPDATE, APRIL 1 2011: Smith pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count and received a 30-day jail sentence, 18 months probation, and one month in a sheriff’s work program. More information is here.
Sheldon Friesen, 26, faces provincial charges of assault with a weapon, and possible federal charges with a maximum penalty of a CDN $100,000 fine and/or five years in prison.
When asked why he aimed at an aircraft, Friesen said “Just to see the distance. You point it up into the sky and see the beam go forever. I don’t know how far forever is, so I see something in the sky that’s worth reflecting, well why not? .... It was supposed to be for simple entertainment rather than having to cause someone danger like that.”
It took only about five minutes from the time he first aimed at the helicopter, to his arrest by three ground-based units.
Just before his arrest, Sheldon Friesen demonstrates to police officers his laser pointer (green glow at bottom center).
From the Winnipeg Sun, Winnipeg Free Press, and Global News/Global Winnipeg
UPDATE, May 1 2012: Friesen pleaded guilty to directing a bright light source at an aircraft. He was sentenced to 15 hours community service. The judge agreed that he did not realize the danger: “You do seem like you were genuinely surprised by the consequences of your actions.” From the Winnipeg Sun.
However, it turns out that this incident was caused by boys on bicycles, apparently acting without pre-planning and not knowing how the lasers would affect pilot vision. During a Feb. 2011 briefing to the SAE G10T laser safety group , FAA flight standards liaison Patrick Hempen said that the truth about Sydney has not caught up with the news stories: “The attacks are usually spontaneous in nature, perpetrated by careless or malicious persons.”
Hempen said that investigation by US and Australian officials revealed that the Sydney "cluster attack" was caused by youths, riding their bicycles on a golf course at night, who stopped and took the occasion to illuminate landing aircraft. He noted that the youths’ local community had a history of acrimony directed at the airport authority due to the construction of a new runway which caused more flights over their residential area.
Hempen also investigated several laser events in the Mideast and found many of the so-called "deliberate attacks" to be similar; they were “events perpetrated by youths, in a party-like atmosphere, without care or knowledge of the havoc that they were causing.”
Based on a Feb. 1, 2011 presentation to SAE G10T.
52-year-old Gerard Sasso aimed a Class 3B green laser, said to be “at least five to ten times more powerful than an ordinary laser pointer” [approximately 25 to 50 milliwatts], at a helicopter that was escorting a liquified natural gas tanker through Boston Harbor. The pilots took evasive action, but the cockpit was hit and filled with “an intense sparkling green light”. The pilots and Coast Guard were able to trace the source to Sasso’s apartment in Medford. He “falsely and repeatedly” told police he was not the perpetrator. However, officers saw a laser pointer and he then admitted lasing the aircraft. Eleven lasers were seized from his apartment.
News reports quoted prosecutors as saying that Sasso was the second person in the U.S. to be convicted of lasing an aircraft. They also pointed to the November 2009 sentence of a California man who received 2.5 years for shining a laser at two airplanes and temporarily blinding a pilot. [This may refer to federal prison sentences, since others in the U.S. have received jail time for laser/aircraft incidents. The Nov. 2009 reference is to Dana Christian Welch.]
From Island Crisis and the Boston Herald. Thanks to David Freihofer and Paul Berthot for bringing this to our attention.
UPDATE August 1 2012: Sasso’s case was appealed on grounds that the jury was given incorrect instructions at the January 2010 trial. The jury was told that it was sufficient for them to find that Sasso “willfully” aimed his laser at the helicopter. However Sasso’s public defender argued August 1 2012 in appeals court that Sasso had to willfully know that his actions would interfere with the aircraft operator. Thus, the jury should have been told to determine if Sasso knew the laser could interfere. An updated story is here at LaserPointerSafety.com.
19-year old Hidalgo Moreno and 17-year-old Nicholas Ramos were arrested in North Naples and were charged with “pointing a laser light at a vehicle or aircraft operator causing injury” a Florida felony with up to a five-year prison sentence, according to the Naples Daily News. The teens told deputies “they didn’t realize it was not legal to point a laser at the helicopter and they were just playing with it.”Click to read more...
The incidents happened on September 15 2010. Rhode Island State Police charged him with disorderly conduct, while he faced federal charges of “interfering with an aircraft with reckless disregard for safety.”
At a press conference held September 23, the U.S. attorney for Rhode Island said, “It comes down to personal responsibility. This is about conduct. It applies to [laser] pointers, a motor vehicle, pitchfork or anything else.”
From the Warwick Beacon and Providence Journal
UPDATE: On January 21 2011, Aquino pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Providence. Sentencing was scheduled for April 21, according to the Boston Globe. A Department of Justice press release said that Aquino “faces a maximum sentence of twenty years imprisonment; 3 years supervised release; and $250,000 fine.”
UPDATE #2: On September 12 2011, Aquino was sentenced to six months of home confinement plus five years probation. The judge also ordered him to continue undergoing mental health counseling, be drug tested 72 times each year, and perform 500 hours of community service. The prosecution had recommended two years in jail. The judge gave a more lenient sentence after hearing about Aquino’s good behavior in the year since the laser attack occurred. The judge did note: "What you did was not only incredibly dangerous, but also incredibly stupid. It’s time to grow up. Time to think about the consequences of what you're doing.'' From the Providence Journal
The Calgary Police Service’s Helicopter Air Watch for Community Safety (HAWC), was on patrol when hit by a green beam at 10:45 pm. The crew then put on protective glasses and began a 30-minute search during which they were hit two more times. During the incident, one runway was closed by the Calgary Airport Authority, as a safety precaution.
Police tracked the beam to McConnell’s home about 10 km (6 mi) away, arrested him and seized what they describe as a “high-powered laser”. McConnell claimed it was an accident: “I was playing with it inside the house and it hit a mirror. It’s not like I was inside pointing it at them. It’s pure coincidence.”
After the incident, the helicopter crew was grounded pending the results of eye tests to determine whether their vision was damaged.
From CBC News, the Vancouver Sun and the Calgary Herald
UPDATE May 31 2011: The Calgary Sun has a short article about initial judicial proceedings against McConnell. The trial phase should begin shortly. From the Calgary Sun.
UPDATE 2 June 19 2012: On June 18 2012, McConnell pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of mischief causing damage to property, and to projecting a bright light at an aircraft to cause a hazard under the Aeronautics Act.
He received a six month conditional sentence followed by six months of probation. The first two months of the conditional term will be under house arrest; the remaining four months he will have a curfew from 10 pm to 5 am. He also must complete 25 hours of community service and undergo counseling. Finally, he will not be allowed to possess laser pointers. Both McConnell’s lawyer and the crown prosecutor agreed that the sentencing conditions were an adequate punishment.
According to his lawyer, McConnell did not realize the seriousness of aiming a laser at an aircraft. He said the incident was due to “basically stupid curiosity.” From the Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald.
2 1/2 years in prison for laser interference with pilots
Dana Christian Welch, 37, of Orange, California was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Welch also is to serve three years of supervised release after completing his prison term, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherilyn Peace Garnett said.Click to read more...
The pilots felt that it was only their night-vision goggles, which reduced the glare, that saved them from a “tragic crash”. Romanov was found guilty of culpable and reckless conduct and was fined the record amount.
From the Daily Record. Click the “Rescue” tag in the left hand column to find similar stories of disrupted rescue operations in the UK and elsewhere.
UPDATE: In late August 2009, Romanov’s lawyers appealed, saying “the fine was maybe suitable for the offense, but not enough consideration has been given to his financial circumstances.” A hearing was scheduled for September 10. From the Press and Journal.
On February 19 2009, Joshua Don Park allegedly pointed a green laser beam two times at the Apache helicopter as it was flying over the Bluffdale area, about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City. Pilot Ken Samson said “It was strong enough that it illuminated my window, but not the entire cabin.” According to Samson, the laser was brighter than a laser pen, but was not a “military grade” laser.
The air crew notified the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office of the approximate location. A deputy went door to door. When they encountered Park, the 30-year-old said he had a laser pointer to play with his cats. Park admitted that he had shined a laser at the aircraft.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Park “believed that the helicopter was way too far away for it to make an impact or even see [sic]”
Park was charged on March 11 2009 with one count of interference with the operation of an aircraft. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
From KSL.com (Feb 25 arrest report, March 11 charge) and Deseret News
UPDATED - August 31 2017: A National Guard pilot told the South Valley Journal that Park committed suicide shortly before he could be sentenced. Park died September 17 2009, according to a September 20 obituary in the Deseret News which included this photo:
The South Valley Journal article implied that Park’s suicide was linked to the laser incident, and that it changed how the National Guard reacted to laser incidents. The article stated “Since that sobering incident, no Utah National Guard pilots have reported lasing incidents to the FBI—but not for lack of occurrences.”
All the planes were targeted during a 20-minute period Sunday night, and all landed safely. But the incident led to pilots simultaneously trying to avoid being temporarily blinded by the light while trying to help authorities pinpoint its source, believed to be about a mile north of the airport.
Air traffic controllers continuously cautioned pilots about the light during the episode, which lasted from 7:10 to 7:30 p.m. PT.
A pilot reported the source to be a block and a half west of an interstate. Airport authorities said they conducted two searches of the area but did not find the culprit.
Officials note that it is a federal crime to point a laser light at an aircraft, and pilots are required to report encounters with laser lights. Officials fear that the lights could cause an accident by blinding pilots or otherwise affecting their night vision.
The FBI has “made it a priority” to investigate laser incidents, according to CNN reporter Jeanne Meserve.. MSNBC reports that the Transportation Safety Administration is also involved in the investigation.
Additional details from CNN and MSNBC. A CNN video of the news story “Lasers aimed at planes”, reported by Jeanne Meserve, is also available from CNN’s website. The video adds information on the FBI which is not in the website print version.
UPDATE: On March 6 2009, police arrested Christopher C. Saunders on the felony charge of first-degree unlawful discharge of a laser. His apartment is in Burien, near the area where the lasers originated. According to the Seattle Times, Saunders told police he was “pointing the light in multiple directions outside a party and may have layered a plane.” From KOMOnews and the Seattle Times.
UPDATE #2: A March 25 2009 AP story stated that Saunders had been released with no charges filed against him. The story also noted that a laser was aimed at an Alaska Airlines flight landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The source of the laser was “near the source of previous laser reports.” From SignOnSanDiego quoting KOMO television.
Air traffic controllers had to close one flight approach late on Friday, after up to four people targeted planes with lasers in an apparently co-ordinated attack. Pilots reported a number of green lasers were trained on their planes for about 15 minutes, from 10.30pm (AEDT). The lasers appeared to have originated from the Bexley area, in south-western Sydney.
"This was the worst attack in our experience," Air Services Australia spokesman Bryan Nicholson has told Fairfax News. "It was described by the pilots as a cluster attack which implies some sort of co-ordination or organisation."
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) said such laser attacks on planes were increasing in frequency. "There are five to six reports every week around Australia," CASA spokesman Peter Gibson told Fairfax. "It is extremely dangerous as it can temporarily blind a pilot or distract them as they are coming in to land."
NSW Police Minister David Campbell vowed to change the law to classify powerful laser beams as illegal weapons. "These gutless and cowardly attacks have to be stopped," he said. "I am preparing a proposal to cabinet to consider making these items a prohibited weapon."
The maximum penalty for shining a laser at a plane is two years in jail.
From the Herald Sun and the Sydney Morning Herald
*2011 UPDATE: Investigation by US and Australian officials revealed that the "cluster attack" was caused by youths, riding their bicycles on a golf course at night, who stopped and took the occasion to illuminate landing aircraft. It might be noted that their local community had a history of acrimony directed at the airport authority due to the construction of a new runway which caused more flights over their residential area. In a Feb. 2011 presentation to the SAE G10T group, attended by LaserPointerSafety.com, FAA flight standards liaison Patrick Hempen said the truth about Sydney has not caught up with the news stories. “The attacks are usually spontaneous in nature, perpetrated by careless or malicious persons.” Hempen also investigated several laser events in the Mideast and found many of the so-called "deliberate attacks" to be similar; they were “events perpetrated by youths, in a party-like atmosphere, without care or knowledge of the havoc that they were causing.”
David W. Banach, 38, of Parsippany NJ is the first person charged in a rash of recent incidents in which lasers were shined at aircraft around the country. Justice Department officials said they do not suspect terrorism in any of the cases, but said Banach's arrest shows how seriously they take the matter.
Sentenced to two years probation; serious charges dropped
"We need to send a clear message to the public that there is no harmless mischief when it comes to airplanes," said Christopher Christie, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey.
Banach made an initial appearance in court Tuesday and was released on $100,000 bond. He was charged with interfering with a flight crew under the USA Patriot Act. He also was charged with lying to federal officers. The charges carry a maximum jail sentence of 25 years.