A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

New Zealand: Man disappears before sentencing on charge of aiming a laser at aircraft

On April 5 2016, Tane Hemopo, 39, was arrested for repeatedly aiming a “high powered” laser pointer at two passenger planes landing at Christchurch Airport. In one case, a Virgin Airlines aircraft with 121 passengers was illuminated for about 20 seconds while at 20,000 feet altitude, then was illuminated an additional three times while on final landing approach. The pilots were dazzled but did not report more serious eye effects. He also aimed at the airport control tower.

Hemopo admitted aiming at the aircraft, but not at the cockpit. He further said he was unaware the laser light could be dangerous.

In August 2016 Hemopo pleaded guilty to charges of “causing unnecessary danger.” This has a fine of up to NZD $10,000 and one year in prison.

The Crown dropped charges of “reckless disregard for the safety of others,” which has a maximum penalty of 14 years.

On September 28 2016, Hemopo failed to appear for sentencing. The judge issued an arrest warrant for Hemopo.

On December 1 2016, Hemopo was sentenced to 10 weeks in jail.

From Stuff.co.nz and the New Zealand Herald.

US: UPDATED - Convicted laser offender apologizes, saying he lost everything for three seconds of aiming laser at helicopter

A Bakersfield, California man wrote a public letter of apology, stating that he “paid dearly” for aiming a laser pointer on September 11 2014 that caused eye pain for a Kern County Sheriff’s Office helicopter pilot.

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 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.

US: Wash state man aims laser at helicopter then at arresting officers

A 32-year-old man aimed a “multicolored LED laser light” at a Spokane (Wash.) County Sheriff’s Office helicopter on September 17 2016. The crew notified deputies on the ground of the laser’s location.

When deputies arrived, they told Brandon J. Neeser to show his hands. Neeser pointed the laser device at the deputies. They saw it was not connected to a gun so they did not take defensive action. The deputies arrested Neeser, who told them he did not know it was illegal and he “thought it would be funny” to aim at the helicopter because they were aiming a light at him.

Neeser faces two felony counts of unlawful discharge of a laser.

From MyFoxSpokane and KREM

US: After lie detector test, another Texas man pleads guilty to aiming laser at a helicopter

On September 13 2016, Christopher B. Evans pleaded guilty to aiming a laser pointer at a flying aircraft.

Evans, 25, of San Antonio, Texas, worked as a security guard in a medical clinic. Workers at the clinic told FBI agents that Evans had laser pointers of different colors and sometimes aimed them at employees.

On October 27 2015, Evans stood outside the clinic and lit up a WOAI-TV news helicopter three times with a green laser:

Oct 27 2015 laser helicopter 01
Evans in the clinic parking lot, aiming his laser pointer

Oct 27 2015 laser helicopter 02
The laser beam goes directly into the cockpit


The helicopter pilot was able to help ground officers find Evans’ location. Evans initially denied his involvement to investigating FBI agents. After questioning with a polygraph, Evans said he did hit the helicopter and in fact had previously aimed lasers at other aircraft as well.

Evans will be sentenced December 12. He could receive up to five years in federal prison and be fined up to $250,000.

This is the second guilty plea in Texas this month. Juan Peralez, 57, of La Joya Texas pleaded guilty on September 2 to aiming a laser pointer at a Border Patrol Helicopter.

From the Hastings Tribune, Houston Chronicle and News4SanAntonio

Scotland: Man arrested for aiming laser at Police Scotland helicopter

A 41-year-old man was arrested for a September 5 2016 incident where a Police Scotland helicopter was illuminated by laser light. The man was on Trafalgar Street in Clydebank, about 5 miles northwest of Glasgow, when the laser pen attack occurred.

A police spokesperson said “It is an offense we take extremely seriously and people need to realize the dangers of this reckless behavior. Our message is clear, use them and you will be arrested.”

From GlasgowLive

Canada: Pilot goes to doctor; subsequent flight canceled after laser illuminates WestJet

Green laser light aimed at a WestJet aircraft on August 22 2016 caused a pilot to seek medical attention after the flight landed in Fort McMurray, Alberta. This, in turn, caused a subsequent flight to be canceled until a new pilot could be brought in.

The severity of the medical complaint, and the pilot’s diagnosis and treatment, were not known. A WestJet spokesperson cited privacy concerns.

The Boeing 737 flight originated in Toronto. The laser was said to have come from “a wooded area in the middle of nowhere”, when the plane was at about 3,500 feet altitude.

According to CBC, there were 40 laser incidents reported in Alberta in May 2016, and 500 incidents in all of Canada in 2015. (According to the Ottawa Citizen, there were 502 laser illuminations in the Transport Canada CADORS database in 2014, and 663 incidents in 2015.)

Royal Canadian Mounted Police from the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo were investigating the incident.

From CBC, CTV News and the National Post

US: Texas man pleads guilty to aiming laser at Border Patrol helicopter

Juan Peralez, 57, of La Joya Texas pleaded guilty on September 2 2016 to aiming a laser pointer at a Border Patrol Helicopter.

The incident occurred on June 20 2016, when the helicopter pilot had to take evasive action to avoid the green beam. Another crew member guided ground officers to the laser perpetrator, where Peralez was arrested.

Juan Peralez laser
Juan Peralez


He will be sentenced November 17 to up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

From KLTV and the Gwinnett Daily Post

Canada: Teen points laser sight on pellet gun at police helicopter

A teenager was arrested after aiming the green beam from a pellet gun’s laser sight at an Air2 police helicopter in Vaughn, Canada, a town just north of Toronto, on August 16 2016.

An infrared camera onboard the aircraft helped the crew locate the source of the laser beam. Ground officers found the pellet gun, which 19-year-old Nicholas Caranci had thrown to the ground as he ran away. The IR camera helped the helicopter crew direct officers to the teen’s location.

Caranci laser Air2
In an attempt to escape arrest, Nicholas Carianci ran from the court at right and hopped over a fence, after throwing his pellet gun with a laser sight into weeds (green circle). Thanks to the helicopter IR surveillance camera, police were able to pick up both the teen and the pellet gun.


Caranci was arrested and charged with mischief endangering life, unlawfully engaging in behavior that endangers an aircraft, and projecting a bright light source into navigable airspace.

From the Mirror

US: Two brothers in South Texas charged with aiming laser at helicopter

Two brothers from McAllen, Texas were arrested for aiming a laser at an Air and Marine Operations helicopter.

The incident happened August 25 2016 in Mission, Texas. The pilot’s vision was temporarily impaired as the laser light lit up the cockpit. The pilot directed ground officers to a home, where Aaron Caceres, 27, and his brother Francisco Caceres, 24, confessed to the laser misuse.

Aaron Caceres laser Francisco Caceres laser
Aaron (27) and Francisco (24) Caceres


They were charged with illumination of aircraft by intense light, a Class A misdemeanor.

From ValleyCentral.com and Chron.com

US: 15 month prison sentence for California man who aimed laser at sheriff's helicopter

Mario Deleon Lopez, a 35-year-old Santa Ana (California) man who intentionally aimed a laser pointer at an Orange County Sheriff’s Department helicopter, was sentenced August 23 2016 to 15 months in federal prison.

On November 14, 2015, the OCSD helicopter was responding to a traffic accident, looking for any victims who may have been thrown from an overturned vehicle. The helicopter was illuminated multiple times by green laser light. The tactical flight officer called the multiple strikes “relentless.”

The helicopter crew was able to direct police on the ground to the backyard of a residence. Lopez was arrested on state charges of pointing a laser at an aircraft. After an investigation conducted by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the Santa Ana Police Department and the FBI, Lopez was indicted on federal charges which culminated in his August 2016 prison sentence.

“This defendant knew that pointing the laser at the helicopter could cause the pilot blindness and endanger those operating the aircraft, but committed the crime anyway,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This was a senseless crime that warrants the sentence imposed by the court.”

United States District Judge Andrew J. Guilford, said the offense was a “distraction” to the people in the air and that “people could die.”

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mark Takla of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section.

From a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California

US: Lasers aimed at aircraft surveying North Dakota pipeline protest

Laser beams were twice aimed at aircraft monitoring the site of a protest over construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.

The first incident occurred August 17 2016 at about 5:15 am. The light went into the pilot’s eye, leaving his vision “dangerously obstructed”, according to Cecily Fong, public information officer of the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services.

The second incident happened on August 21 2016 at about 12:45 am. The pilot looked away in time to avoid the laser light, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s department.

News reports are unclear, but it appears the same aircraft and same pilot were involved in both incidents.

The flights were being done by the North Dakota Highway Patrol to monitor approximately 3,000 persons — most Native American tribal members — who wanted to block construction of the pipeline until a court hearing could take place over its impact to sacred sites and culturally important landscapes.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was called in to try and find the laser perpetrator(s).

Tara Houska, speaking on behalf of Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization supporting indigenous peoples’ environmental justice, said “Why launch a federal investigation into a laser pointer instead of asking what right the U.S. government has to fly surveillance planes over sovereign nations in the first place?”

From KELOland TV, Snopes, Forum News Service, Belleville News-Democrat and Intercontinental Cry magazine

UK: Concern over teens with laser pen camping on building under flight path

Concerns have been raised about teenagers with a “long range” laser pen on the roof of the 16-story Albion Towers housing unit in Southampton. On July 19 2016, neighborhood security wardens broke up a group of about five teens sleeping on the roof. They had apparently done this a number of times before, according to residents of the top-floor flats.

The building is located under a major flightpath, about 3.5 miles from Southampton Airport. On the map below, Albion Towers is towards the bottom; the airport is at the top.

Pic 2016-07-29 at 3.04.10 PM

According to the Southern Daily Echo, shocked tenants and community leaders have condemned the trespassing youths as ‘putting lives at risk’…”

Housing authorities sent letters to some residents stating that the teens’ actions were “extremely dangerous” and the long range laser pointer could have caused a “major incident” if aimed at aircraft.

The letter noted that the youths appeared “undeterred” and had “considered their actions humorous.”

The news report did not indicate that any lasing activity, or any aiming of the laser towards aircraft, had actually occurred.

From the Southern Daily Echo

US: 37-year-old lases police aircraft, arrested; 7-year-old hits same aircraft, let go

On July 23 2016, a Portland police aircraft was illuminated by laser light. The beam was traced to David Martinez, 37, who was arrested on charges of recklessly endangering another person, and unlawful directing light from a laser pointer. The laser pointer was confiscated.

David Martinez laser
David Martinez


While the first incident was being investigated, another laser illuminated the aircraft. This was traced to a 7-year-old. The child’s mother was given the laser pointer, along with a lecture about the dangers of aiming at aircraft. The child was not charged.

The distance between the two laser users was about 4 miles. The map below shows the ground location of the first and second incidents:

portland map 37-year-old 7-year-old

On July 25 Martinez pleaded not guilty to the two charges. He has prior court records which include felony unauthorized use of a vehicle and failure to appear. He also has been charged with heroin delivery and possession of heroin and methamphetamine; that case is pending.

From the Associated Press via the Register-Guard, and OregonLive

UK: Eight and six month sentences for aiming laser pen at helicopter

Two U.K. men were sentenced to jail on July 22 2016, for aiming the green beam of a laser pen onto a police helicopter.

During the March 9 2016 incident, intermittent flashes from the laser caused the pilot to take evasive action. The search for a missing person was called off, and instead the crew tracked the laser beam to two men in a park in the Newfoundpool area of Leicester. When ground officers apprehended the men, each man said the other had been using the laser.

Martin Gary Jayes, 46, had 71 criminal convictions on his record and was drunk when arrested for the laser offense. He was sentenced to eight months in jail for recklessly or negligently endangering the safety of an aircraft and those traveling within it.

His neighbor Oktawain Kamil Plaskiewicz, 22, was sentenced to six months in jail.

The judge said the men’s actions had “grave risks” and was “life-threatening.”

Jayes’ lawyer said “This offense was committed in drink by someone who knew better. He’s badly let himself down.”

Plaskiewicz’s lawyer said “He knows he’s acted in a very stupid way. There was no intention to bring down a helicopter. If it wasn’t so serious it might have been a childhood prank.”

From the Leicester Mercury. Thanks to Greg Makhov for bringing this to our attention.

US: Woman arrested by Houston police for aiming laser pointer at helicopter

A 23-year-old Corpus Christi, Texas woman was arrested July 10 2016 for aiming a laser pointer at a helicopter flying in a low-income area of Houston.

The helicopter was lased twice while in the air, and a third time when it landed. Officers traced the laser to Emily Ann Hunter. She was charged with illumination of an aircraft, a misdemeanor. Bond was set at $1,000.

Emily Ann Hunter laser
Emily Ann Hunter


From Click2Houston

US: Florida man arrested for aiming laser at police helicopter

A 26-year-old man was arrested on July 8 2016, for repeatedly aiming green laser light at a Marion County (Florida) sheriff’s helicopter.

Officers in the helicopter were searching for a kidnapping suspect when they were illuminated 15-20 times as they flew over Weirsdale, Florida, about an hour northwest of Orlando. The pilot was directly hit in the eyes “at least five times” according to a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson.

The airborne officers used night-vision equipment to find Phillip Willman. He was arrested and told officers he only aimed the laser at the helicopter once. Willman was charged with six counts of pointing laser light at a driver or pilot.

Pic 2016-07-11 at 5.05.30 PM
Phillip Willman


The Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said that during 2016, there have been “over five” incidents where lasers were aimed at helicopters, two of which ended with an arrest.

From FOX35 Orlando

UK: Man sentenced to 20 weeks, for aiming laser at police helicopter

A Hull man was given a 20 week prison sentence on February 18 2016, for aiming a £9 (USD $13) laser pen at a Humberside Police helicopter on January 6 2016. Philip Houghton, 25, had previously pleaded guilty to the offense.

Philip Houghton laser
Philip Houghton


From BBC News

UK: Cessna pilot makes emergency landing after being hit by laser after takeoff

An instructor for the Cambridge Aero Club, flying a single-engine Cessna 172, made an emergency landing after being flashblinded by a laser beam after takeoff. The February 16 2016 incident occurred around 6:30 pm local time near St Neots, about 20 miles from the club’s base at Cambridge Airport.

The instructor was not injured. There was no information available whether there was anyone else in the aircraft at the time.

The incident is being classified as “endangering an aircraft," and police are investigating.

From the Daily Mail

Mexico: Alitalia flight with Pope sees laser beam before landing at Mexico City

The crew of an Alitalia flight carrying the Pope from Havana to Mexico reported that they saw a laser light aimed into the air, as the plane was at an altitude of 8,000 feet, preparing to land in Mexico City. The following statement was issued by Alitalia on February 17 2016:

“The cockpit crew of Alitalia flight AZ4000 on Friday 12 February noticed a laser light from the ground, as did other aircraft flying towards Mexico City, as they prepared to land at the Mexican capital’s airport. The aircraft Captain, Massimiliano Marselli, promptly reported to the control tower what the cockpit crew had witnessed, which is standard procedure with these type of matters, and similarly it is usual practice for the control tower to alert the competent, local authorities. None of our cockpit crew or any passengers on board were injured by the beam and the aircraft landed safely. The aircraft, an Airbus A330, was enroute from Havana in Cuba to Mexico.”

According to the Sun, air traffic control transmissions recorded a number of pilots reporting laser strikes.

From the New York Daily News; Alitalia statement tweeted by Jon Williams, foreign editor of ABC News. Thanks to Alberto Kellner for bringing this to our attention.

UK: UPDATED - Flight returns to airport after pilot gets laser in eyes, reports medical emergency

A Virgin Atlantic flight from London to New York on February 14 2016 was illuminated by a laser shortly after takeoff from Heathrow Airport, around 9:30 pm local time. The Airbus A340 continued but then turned back after crossing Ireland. The pilot declared a medical emergency, not threatening to life, due to the laser effects. On a recording of air traffic control communications, a person was heard to say “we have a medical issue with one of the pilots after a major incident … the other pilot is able to perform his duties.”

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.

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.”