A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
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.
Eugene Lamont Robinson
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.
A spokesperson for U.S. Central Command told the paper that while the source is “exceedingly difficult to pinpoint … many likely come from insurgents and terrorist organizations.”
U.S. crews had no permanent injuries although minor effects such as short-term vision impairment and headaches were reported.
The Journal article did not indicate whether the laser illuminations were being coordinated, or if the perpetrators were using lasers of a different type or power than those commonly involved in illuminations of civilian aircraft outside of conflict zones.
Lasing rate comparison
For comparison with civil aviation, during the same January-July 2018 period American civilian pilots reported 3,182 laser illuminations to the Federal Aviation Administration. In Canada there were roughly 190 laser illuminations reported to Transport Canada, and in the U.K. there were roughly 500 laser illuminations reported to the Civil Aviation Authority.
The Middle East incidents appear to indicate a higher rate of lasing than two recent areas of concern recently disclosed by U.S. military:
- In May 2018, a Pentagon spokesperson reported “between 2 and ten” lasers aimed at U.S. aircraft operating out of Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.
- From September 2017 to mid-June 2018, about two dozen aircraft in the East China Sea were illuminated by “smaller, commercial grade” laser pointers similar to those sold for pointing and playing with pets.
Laser incidents in the Middle East had been at about 700 in 2015, about 600 in 2016, and were at about 400 in 2017. At the current rate of about 50 per month in the first seven months of 2018, there would be about 600 incidents estimated for all of 2018.
From a Wall Street Journal article by reporter Gordon Lubold; the article is behind a paywall. A non-paywall (free) summary is at The Hill.
Click to read more...
One incident occurred at Te Kauwhata at 7:40 pm. The second occurred 43 miles away (straight line; 52 miles by highway) at 8:30 pm, near Te Awamutu. Normally this journey takes about 70 minutes by car via State Highways 1 and 39. So it would appear difficult for a car at one location to make it to the other within 50 minutes.
Police said the pilots “weren’t injured but [were] quite shaken.” One of the attacks lasted 26 seconds.
In addition, there have been other recent incidents where lasers were aimed at planes in Morrinsville, Cambridge and Hamilton.
Police will investigate these laser incidents.
Since March 1 2014, New Zealand has import controls on lasers over 1 milliwatt, and sales are restricted to “authorized recipients” who must apply to the Director-General of Health. However, it does not appear to be illegal in New Zealand to possess high-powered lasers obtained prior to March 1 2014 or which are home-built.
From Stuff. Information on New Zealand laws from LaserPointerSafety.com’s “International (non-U.S.) laws” page.
The laser pointer was confiscated and the unnamed man was charged with “causing fear or alarm to the driver or pilot of a conveyance or others.” He will appear in court later in July 2018.
US: UPDATED - Florida woman arrested for aiming laser at sheriff's helicopter. Knew it was wrong; charges later dropped.
Jacqueline Robledo, 33, of Lake Worth, was arrested. She told officers she was aware that the laser light could cause blindness. She was charged with misuse of a laser lighting device and was held on $3,000 bond.
From the Palm Beach Post, Tampa Bay Times and NBC-2.com
UPDATED August 12 2018 - Charges against Jacqueline Robledo were dropped on August 9 2018. There was no reason given. Robledo did not have any previous criminal history. From myPalmBeachPost.com
Ruth Ann Hopp was ordered into temporary custody on June 25, pending a detention hearing. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
From the Brownsville Herald
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….”
On June 19 2018 at about 12:30 am, a green laser beam was aimed at the cockpit from an apartment building balcony. The crew could identify the apartment complex the beam came from, but not a specific unit.
At about 1 am, the helicopter cockpit was again illuminated by a laser beam. This time the crew could see from which unit the beam came. Ground officers then went to the apartment, where they handcuffed and arrested the 15-year-old males.
The teens are led down the apartment staircase to a waiting police car. They were later released to their parents.
A police department spokesperson called the incident “super dangerous” and very serious. There were no injuries reported to the helicopter crew.
From MyNewsLA.com, the Orange County Register and ABC7.com
The California Highway Patrol received a number of calls from motorists who saw or were illuminated by the laser light.
James Gilbert Trujillo, 33, was arrested on suspicion of discharging a laser at an aircraft in the June 6 incident. He will appear in court June 11.
From the Victorville Daily Press and San Bernardino Sun. This news item was also filed under the Non-aviation incident news section.
The second offense occurred October 5 2017 during a World Cup qualifier game between Northern Ireland and Germany. The helicopter was monitoring the crowd at Windsor Park football ground when it was illuminated two times by laser light. The pilot could not fly by sight; he had to use instruments. The helicopter identified the laser as coming from a nearby home. Ground officers arrested Barkley while the helicopter retreated to the safety of Belfast City Airport.
At trial, it was noted that Barkley had a low IQ and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He was smoking marijuana in his bedroom at the time of the arrest.
The judge said a jail sentence “would not help society or prevent further offending.”
During his two-year probation, Barkley would receive help with his drug problems. The judge did note that if Barkley violated probation he “will go straight to prison.”
In 2015, Barkley’s laser conviction was dealt with by a youth diversion conference because of his age at the time.
From BBC News, Belfast Telegraph and Newsletter.co.uk
The pilot was temporarily disoriented. He put on night vision goggles to prevent laser light from directly entering his eyes. He was able to direct officers on the ground to the woman, who was inside a car with a “long black cylinder-shaped laser pointer in her hand.”
Federal charges were filed against the 31-year-old woman.
According to KSHB, “Kansas City Police said the pilot flying the KCPD helicopter last month [May 2018] had a temporary deficiency in his vision and is currently recovering. The pilot is expected to return and fly again.”
The FBI said there were 110 cases of pilots reporting laser illuminations in Kansas City during 2017.
In January 2017, Jordan Clarence Rogers was sentenced to three years in federal prison for an October 2013 incident where he aimed a laser at a Kansas City police helicopter multiple times, resulting in several hours of eye strain for the pilot.
From June 1 2018 reports in the Kansas City Star, KSHB.com and Fox4KC.com
The pilot directed police on the ground to the home of Darren Kenyon, 48. He told them he had been “playing” with the laser by pointing it out his bathroom window. The laser had been purchased by one of his six children while on holiday.
In Manchester magistrates court, Kenyon pleaded guilty to reckless behavior likely to endanger an aircraft. He will be sentenced at crown court.
From The Sun
The New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority said there has been eight reports of lasers illuminating Northland Emergency Services Trust helicopters in the timespan 2016-2018.
The Possession of High-Power Laser Pointers Amendment Act 2014 makes it illegal for anyone to have a high-power laser pointer in a public place. Offenders face a maximum three months in prison or a $2000 fine.
Under the Crimes Act, people found guilty of "endangering transport" can face up to 14 years' imprisonment.
From the New Zealand Herald Northern Advocate
In all of 2016, there were 73 laser incidents at Birmingham Airport, so six incidents over two evenings is especially alarming to the local police and the British Airline Pilots’ Association. Birmingham Airport police tweeted “Laser strikes directed at aircraft are extremely dangerous! They can distract or blind a pilot. It is also an offence under Article 137 Air Navigation Order 2009, endangering an aircraft.”
If the perpetrators can be found, they will face “a hefty jail sentence.”
From BBC News and Birmingham Mail
The NPAS crew contacted police in Preston, Lancashire who located and “detained the offender.” It is not known how much the persistent laser light disrupted the search for the woman. She was later found by a member of the public after a social media alert was posted.
From the Lancashire Post
A substance appearing to be oil coated the Cessna 172’s windscreen. The unnamed student said “I literally can’t see a thing” to flight controllers who safely talked him down. The incident lasted about 7 1/2 minutes.
Air traffic controller Tim Martin, who helped the student, said “That’s probably like a worst-case scenario for that pilot to land that plane with zero visibility.”
A spokesperson at at the student’s school, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, said “the student-pilot did exactly what he had been trained to do.”
From the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Although this incident does not involve a laser, it does involve a pilot with no forward vision undertaking a landing, and thus may be relevant to pilots who are temporarily blinded by a dazzling laser beam exposure.
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.
The unnamed man was a passenger in a car when he aimed at the helicopter. The aircrew radioed to a ground unit that stopped the car. The man told the officer that a misdemeanor warrant had been issued for his arrest.
He was charged on the warrant and for violating his probation. Apparently, he was not charged for the laser offense.
From the Omaha World-Herald
The incident happened during the week of April 8-14. There have been two previous incidents, also involving Hawaiian Airline planes.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that it is illegal to aim laser beams at aircraft or their flight path. Penalties are up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
The first incident in American Samoa when an aircraft reported a laser beam happened in March 2011.
From Radio New Zealand
He and two other members of the MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew landed safely after being hit by a laser several times at about 9 p.m. March 21 2018.
The aircrew conducted visual acuity tests with the duty corpsman. After consultation with the flight surgeon, two of the three aircrew members were medically grounded until they received further examination by an optometrist.
One of the crew members was found to have suffered eye damage and was grounded for seven days. The crew member will be reevaluated this week. The other crew member was grounded for two hours but has since returned to duty.
Because members of the crew were medically grounded, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Sector Columbia River in Warrenton, Ore., became responsible for covering the Port Angeles station’s area of responsibility until Port Angeles aircrews were medically cleared.
From the Peninsula Daily News and a U.S. Coast Guard press release
US: Man shines laser near Sea-Tac Airport and at police helicopter: "Didn't think it was a big deal"
On March 13 2018, the Sea-Tac control tower notified the helicopter, Guardian 1, that a laser was being aimed at inbound aircraft. The approximate location was the Burien Transit Center bus station. The helicopter was able to locate a man, who pointed a green laser beam at the aircraft. Officers on the ground arrested the man, who was not named in press reports.
According to the arresting officers, the man said he was showing his friend a new laser, and the man was “accidentally” aiming near the airport. The man also said he deliberately aimed the laser at the helicopter but “didn’t think it was a big deal.”
The laser caused a brief interruption of SeaTac Airport flight duties and prevented pilots from looking outside the aircraft.
From the Sky Valley Chronicle, KIRO, and Q13FOX.
On August 15, 2017, the Lehigh Valley Health Network MedEvac 7 was preparing to land when it was illuminated by a green laser beam. There was no injury to the crew. Timothy M. Ebert was arrested and charged with risking a catastrophe, possessing an instrument of crime, and three counts of recklessly endangering another person.
Timothy M. Ebert
Ebert pleaded guilty to the laser-related charges, plus charges in five other cases including driving under the influence, fleeing or eluding police, driving under suspension, driving an unregistered vehicle, driving the wrong way, possession of a prohibited offensive weapon, possession of a small amount of marijuana, two counts each of delivery of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, and three counts of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.
In addition to serving prison time, Ebert must pay costs, $1300 in fines, $500 to the Substance Abuse Education Fund, perform 10 hours of community service and submit a DNA sample to authorities.
From the Republican Herald
The sideshow took place at about 2 a.m. in Oakland, with about 200 cars present. Fireworks were shot into the air and there were reports of gunfire.
View from the helicopter’s infrared camera, showing cars doing doughnuts, and spectators
A green laser beam was aimed at a CHP helicopter several times. The crew was able to direct ground officers to a white sedan, where the 23-year-old was arrested and faces “several state and federal felony charges.”
From KVTU.com. See also this story about lasers being aimed into the crowd at a December 2017 Oakland sideshow.