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U.S. officials said the low-level, harassing beams came from fishing vessels and from shore.
U.S. and Chinese military interests have had disputes in the East China Sea in recent years. However, there was no specific indication of whether there was malicious intent, or any organized effort behind the laser incidents. The officials speculated that the lasers could be directed by the Chinese government, or could be “disgruntled Chinese fishermen… who simply want to harass American pilots.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said that flying procedures have not changed due to the laser incidents. She did say pilots are “employing” required laser eye protection.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry called claims that China was responsible for the East China Sea lasers “groundless and sheer fabrications.”
According to news.com.au, “All aspects of the Chinese economy are state-controlled. And its fishing fleets are operated as a militia, working in close concert with Beijing’s navy as it seeks to assert its arbitrary claim to total control of the South and East China Seas…. The waterway is, however, part of a busy sea lane carrying enormous quantities of international trade.”
Disclosure of the East China Sea incidents came about seven weeks after the United States publicly accused China of deliberately aiming lasers between two and ten times at military aircraft in Djibouti, in East Africa. In those incidents, the Pentagon said “military-grade” lasers were used. Two U.S. Air Force pilots received minor, unspecified injuries with no long-term effects.
From the Wall Street Journal, news.com.au and Stars and Stripes
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: About 24 laser/aircraft incidents over nine months from boats or the shore of the East China Sea seems like a plausible number for random, unconnected civilian misuse of commonly available laser pointers.
Consider that the East China Sea has an area of about 500,000,000 square miles. This is roughly equivalent to the combined area of Texas, California and Florida. (Of course the Sea is far less populated even considering seacoast populations.)
In the U.S. in 2017, there were roughly 5,600 reported incidents over nine months, so 24 incidents in the same period is a reasonable number for a less-populated area. Another indication that these may be from civilian misuse is that U.S. officials indicated the East China Sea incidents occurred from “smaller, commercial-grade” lasers which includes readily available low-powered consumer laser pointers.
However, if Chinese fishing fleets are a “militia” as claimed by one news source, then there may be some coordination or central control for the laser attacks.
For a contrary view, see the June 25 2018 column “China is Trying to Bring Down American Planes With Lasers. Time to Get Tough” in the Daily Beast. Author Gordon Chang considers but rejects the unorganized attack hypothesis. He says “it is difficult to believe that Chinese fishermen can pick out American military aircraft from civilian ones without radar or other help. Moreover, state support is the best explanation for the increasing sophistication of the laserings.”
Chang argues that “Washington should consider the attacks, almost certainly directed by Beijing, as attempts to injure pilots and their crews. The American response, therefore, should be immediate in timing and devastating in effect….”
There were no reports of injuries or damage caused by the laser, so the Navy “believes it was not of industrial or military grade quality….” A Navy public affairs officer from the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command called the Iranian use of the laser as “unsafe” and “unprofessional.”
From CNN and Stars and Stripes. Thanks to Greg Makhov for bringing this to our attention. Note: The U.S. Navy in November 2014 deployed the first laser weapon sent into trials on an active duty warship, the USS Ponce. Six commercial welding lasers are merged into a single beam of 30 kilowatts, that can be used against targets including Iranian gunboats, according to SlashGear.
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.
A sheriff’s spokesperson said of the laser light beam “It’s not different, really, than if you were to shoot an officer.” He said the lasers can cause permanent eye injuries and can cause a crash.
Since January 2011, there were approximately six laser incidents in the county. No crew members were injured, according to the spokesperson.
From Rancho Bernardo Patch and 10News.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.