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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 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.
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.
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.