A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
On March 9 2015, a New York Police Department helicopter was searching for the source of a laser beam that had been aimed at airplanes flying in and out of LaGuardia. They saw a beam coming from Frank Egan's apartment, located about 10 miles from the airport. Ground units found a "Laser 303" inside. Police said Egan admitted it was his laser and he had used it that evening — but also said he had not aimed it at aircraft. He said he had been asleep in the apartment.
On March 13 2015 during a court hearing Egan, his roommate and future brother-in-law revealed on the stand that he was the one who aimed the laser at aircraft. Elehecer Balaguer, 54 said "Frank didn't have nothing to do with it. I was the one that did it. I didn't mean to cause any harm." Balaguer also said the laser was his; that he had purchased in while on vacation in Florida. According to Egan’s lawyer, Egan never told the police he used the laser, contrary to the police statement after Egan’s arrest.
On May 5 2015 Balaguer pleaded guilty to aiming a laser at an airplane in return for prosecutors recommending a minimum sentence of two years in prison (he could have been sentenced up to five years). The judge, however, noted Balaguer's "psychiatric history and … his apparent lack of wrongful intent."
In September 2015 Balaguer was sentenced to time served, after receiving a diagnosis of terminal liver cancer. He has since died.
In his lawsuit against New York City, Egan said that police falsely claimed that Egan had admitted owning the laser pointer. Egan said his picture was widely spread in the media, his reputation had suffered, and his wedding and honeymoon were disrupted by the arrest.
A Law Department spokesman said "…it was in the city's best interest to settle this case."
From the New York Daily News. Previous LaserPointerSafety coverage of the arrest and the case can be found here.
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.
US: FBI searching for laser perpetrator after Delta pilot's vision "severely disrupted" on landing an NY LaGuardia Airport
The FBI announced on March 28 that they were searching for suspects in the Queens Boulevard area of Elmhurst, Queens, New York City. The bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Force offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator.
From the Associated Press via MassLive.com, and Queens Chronicle. This incident was widely reported as an injury to the pilot, in press headlines such as “FBI: Laser flashed at Delta cockpit injured pilot landing airplane at New York’s LaGuardia Airport”
At 7:35 pm on October 15 2013, a Shuttle America (Delta Connection) airplane was on final approach, six miles from the runway, when the cockpit was lit up by green laser light. The crew said the laser source was west of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx (green marker in the map below)
At 10:37 pm the same day, a private aircraft two miles southwest of LaGuardia reported a green laser. The laser source was near the intersection of Broadway and Steinway Streets in Queens (red marker).
The two locations are about 7 miles apart directly or 11 miles by roadway; driving between the two sites would take about 20 minutes.
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No one on either aircraft was injured by the laser beam, according to the FBI.
There were 54 reported laser incidents involving LaGuardia thus far in 2013, with 18 reports at Newark International Airport and 17 reports involving John F. Kennedy International Airport.
From the Associated Press via Global News and ABC News, and from the Daily Mail. Click the “Read More…” link for the FBI press release.
Four commuter jets were illuminated on Friday between 6:06 and 7:56 pm. On Saturday, a commuter jet and a Boeing 757 were illuminated around 7:00 pm. The aircraft were between 1600 and 2500 feet when struck by the laser beams. There were no reports of injuries, eye effects, or flight deviations.
Aviation expert John Trepani said the clustering of the incidents was troubling: “That’s unusual and highly disturbing. Do we have people fooling around or do we have people who have bad intentions to airliners using a sighting, using a laser as a sighter, a weapon’s sighter, just to see the reaction, just to see if Homeland Security takes this seriously?”
Trepani was also troubled by the fact that all aircraft landed on Runway 4, which CBS called “one of the most difficult runways at LaGuardia” (although this claim was disputed by a pilot in the comments).
Anyone with information can contact local police and/or the FAA. LaserPointerSafety.com has a page about how to report laser incidents; the page includes FAA contact information.
From MSNBC.com and CBS New York
According to WABC, on Saturday April 17, a JetBlue flight originating in Portland, Maine was landing at JFK “when suddenly the pilots were distracted by an intensely bright green laser”. According to tower transcripts, the pilot said the laser was “directly pointing right at us. I saw the flash to the left looked, looked out left as I was landing. Put my head down, put up the sun screen.” [Note: This is a good reaction. Although the pilot initially looked towards the light, the pilot then took steps to reduce the light’s effect.]