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Coast Guard seeks tips, information on recent laser attacks on helicopters
MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. — The Coast Guard is asking the public for tips or information regarding recent laser attacks aimed against rescue helicopter crews.
The latest attack occurred Tuesday evening near the Arcata-Eureka airport as an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay was conducting a practice instrument approach.
The helicopter was southeast of the airport when a green laser coming from a wooded area about three miles east of McKinleyville, was shined directly at the aircraft. The pilots quickly landed so the crew members could receive medical checkups.
“Laser attacks against aircraft are a crime because of the danger they present to aviators and the public," said Capt. Greg Fuller, the commander of Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay. “Our aircrews put their own lives on the line on a daily basis to save others in distress. These laser incidents significantly impact our ability to respond and we ask the public's help in identifying the sources.”
It is a federal crime, as well as a violation of California state law to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. Punishment under state law ranges from civil penalties of $1,000 up to $2,000 and three years imprisonment. Federal law allows for a punishment of imprisonment of up to five years.
Lasers, including common laser pointers, can cause glare, flash blindness, temporary loss of night vision and more permanent damage such as blind spots, cataracts and partial or total loss of visual acuity.
The Coast Guard encourages anyone who sees someone lasing any aircraft to call 911 to report the crime immediately.
Information about some California aviation laser incidents, including arrests and convictions of laser aircraft attackers, can be seen here: http://laserpointersafety.com/news/news/aviation-incidents_files/tag-california.php
The helicopter was searching for a violent robbery suspect. The crew was forced to stop the search in order to identify the source of the laser.
Laser light from a direct hit overwhelms the camera lens for one frame of the CHP helicopter’s surveillance
A second later, the suspect can be seen (left) walking with what appears to be a child (right) in the middle of the road.
The CHP crew directed ground officers to a San Leandro house where the woman was arrested and a laser pointer was confiscated. CHP said the woman had other lasers in her home as well.
The FBI is investigating.
From the Mercury News and KRON (link to video is here)
The helicopter was helping the Coastguard trying to locate a lost person, when the laser illumination occurred.
The man was arrested for endangering an aircraft and was released on bail.
Connor Grant Brown
Brown faces state charges of reckless endangerment, obstructing and hindering, and shining a laser pointer at an aircraft.
According to a trooper who was in the helicopter, the laser had a power of 100 milliwatts. The U.S. limit for laser pointers is 5 milliwatts. [The laser itself is legal, but it is illegal to sell lasers over 5 milliwatts as a “pointer” or for pointing purposes. And of course it is illegal to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft in the U.S.]
The trooper also said “he experienced spots on his vision after the laser hit the helicopter, as if he had just looked at the sun. While most sun spots disappear in a few blinks, the spots from the laser did not. He also experienced minor pain that he described to be similar to windburn.”
The trooper said the helicopter pilot described his vision as “sandy.”
A statement of probable cause described Brown’s explanation to troopers regarding why he aimed the laser at the helicopter.
At about 1 am Brown woke up due to a “buzzing sound.” The unknown aircraft flew over his house “every minute, at some points shaking the windows.” Brown aimed his $20 internet-purchased laser “to signal the operator to stop flying so close to the house.”
After police showed up at his house, “my heart sank in my chest.” He apologized and said he did not mean to cause any harm from his “horrible, horrible mistake… From start to finish, what I did was wrong.”
From CBS Baltimore, Carroll County Times initial story, Carroll County Times follow-up story, and Carroll County Times editorial “Use common sense with laser pointers.” Thanks to Capt. Dan Hewett and Greg Makhov for bringing this to our attention.
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
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.
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
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.
UPDATED February 17 2017: A forum post claiming to be from the Virgin Atlantic pilot gave details about the incident. The person posted under the handle “scroggs”. He wrote: “I am the Captain in this event…. It was a red beam, not a green one. It was indeed reported as and when it happened. The pictures we got show its ground position (which wasn’t Legoland as far as I can see), and will hopefully help those in the know to estimate its power and provenance.”
Scroggs continued: “As was reported in the news, the FO did receive retinal damage from what appeared to be a 'lucky' passing sweep, but it's not permanent and will heal fully. There was no visual impairment during the flight, but there was no way of knowing (for me) that that would continue to be the case. The symptoms were slow in making themselves apparent. That's about all I'm prepared to say for now.” From post #173 in a thread on PPRuNE.org about the incident.
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.”
The incident took place in Richmond Hill, Georgia. The Coast Guard urged anyone with information to come forward.
The source of the laser is unknown.
From KUSA 9 News
Case 1: Johnny Alexander Quenga, 28, of Fresno
On March 5 2015, the Fresno Police Department helicopter Air 1 was illuminated by green laser light about six times over ten minutes. One crew member, who had been illuminated by lasers numerous times in the past, suffered temporary flashblindness, afterimages, a headache lasting several hours requiring pain medication, and dizziness. He said the beam was much brighter than in his past experience. The pilot had a momentary loss of night vision, and flew a wide orbit to avoid the beam. The pilot directed ground officers to the location.
However, a patrol car on the way to the suspect’s home was broadsided at an intersection by a Toyota 4Runner. The Jaws of Life were needed to rescue one of the officers. Both officers in the car were treated at a hospital for serious injuries. The officer driving was knocked unconscious, had upper body and leg injuries, and some chipped teeth. The passenger officer had a broken leg and a fracture in his back that may require surgery. (The 4Runner driver and passenger suffered minor injuries.)
The Fresno Police Department car that was broadsided on the way to arrest a man who aimed a laser pointer at an FPD helicopter. Two officers were seriously injured. Photo from YourCentralValley.com.
When officers finally reached Quenga’s home, they found he was listening to police department radio traffic. He said “he could hear everything the officers were saying and knew they were looking for him and [he] had possibly hidden the laser.” Quenga claimed the laser beam came from a house behind him. He further said he worked as a security guard and knew he could lose his job for misuse of a laser.
From Highland Radio and the Irish Mirror
The HH-65C Dolphin helicopters were based in Detroit. “During both incidents the lasers appeared to track the helicopters as they moved,” said the agency.
The Coast Guard has strict rules requiring helicopters to abandon their missions if illuminated with laser light. Anyone exposed is taken off flight duty for 24 hours, has their eyes dilated and must be cleared by a doctor before flying again.
From Ars Technica and the Lansing State Journal
On July 19 2014, helicopter “India 99” was trying to locate 10 people walking across rooftops. Arkadiusz Wozniewski of the London suburb of New Malden aimed a laser pen at the aircraft. This caused the search to be called off.
Wozniewski pleaded guilty in Wimbledon Magistrates Court on October 8 2014.
From the Surrey Comet
UK: Police copter abandons search for missing North Yorkshire woman, due to 6-year-old aiming laser pen
The officers spoke to the child’s parents, telling them that shining light in pilots’ eyes is dangerous. The boy was said to have had no malicious intent.
The missing woman was later located “safe and well,” according to police quoted in an October 2 2014 news story.
Neither the rapist nor the laser perpetrator have been found, as of October 1 2014 when the NYPD made details of the incident public on their Facebook page.
From Pix11.com and the police Facebook page
In August, Hunt pleaded guilty to acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft, and to possession of cannabis. He was given a community order for 12 months, a supervision order, was fined £20, was ordered to pay a £60 victim surcharge, and he had his laser pen and cannabis forfeited.
From the Bolton News
UK: 16 and 12 week sentences for two Birmingham-area men in "persistent and determined" laser pen attack
Claudio Bruno, 48, of Bloxwich and Carl Keates, 23, of Walsall pleaded guilty to recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft. Bruno -- said to be responsible for 90 percent of the attack -- was sentenced to 16 weeks in jail. Keates was sentenced to 12 weeks.
The two had been drinking when they began to aim a laser at the police helicopter as it was tracking a stolen car. The “repeated and prolonged” attack lasted about 25 minutes, 10 of which was filmed by the helicopter. Video footage showed that both men were fully aware of what they were doing.
Bruno told arresting police that it was a joke, but then said his actions had put the helicopter in danger. He had purchased the laser about six months before to point out constellations in the night sky. Keates said he did not know if the laser would reach the helicopter.
At trial, the defender said that Bruno, in particular, was terrified at the prospect of the court case: "His family say he has not been able to eat or sleep and has wept constantly. He is extremely remorseful, not for his position but for what he did. It was stupid, foolish and reckless."
During sentencing, the judge said "This type of case is one of the most difficult that a judge has to deal with because I have before me two men of good character but each charged with a very serious offence. I accept you are both very remorseful. You had both been drinking and no doubt thought it would be a jokey thing to do but it was not and it could have had catastrophic consequences."
From the Walsall Advertiser and the Express & Star
On June 7 2014, a California Highway Patrol helicopter was responding to an incident in Oakland when the flight officer noticed two green flashes aimed at the aircraft. Ground officers found a laser pointer in Palomino’s pocket.
The helicopter had to break off a search with the Oakland Police Department, to deal with the laser incident. In an affidavit, an FBI special agent stated that “the two officers in the CHP helicopter had to divert their attention back and forth between searching for the source of the laser and providing assistance to the OPD.”
According to the Contra Costa Times, Palomino was taking a selfie video during the incident: “In the video, Palomino yelled at the helicopter pilot, ‘Look at this laser!’ A woman can be heard in the background saying, ‘Don't do that! You know you could blind ... You('re) going to go to jail if you do that. Don't do that!’”
According to SFGate, “In a recorded telephone conversation from jail, Palomino asked his mother in Spanish if she had recorded a news segment about the incident, which he described as an ‘embarrassment,’ Koh wrote [in the affidavit]. ‘Palomino’s mother replied by stating, ‘You should be embarrassed for doing dumb a– things.’ “
Palomino is free on $10,000 bond with a condition of a 6 pm curfew. The teen was released into the custody of his mother, and will be arraigned on September 5 2014.
From NBC Bay Area and SFGate
UPDATED December 2 2015 — Palomino was sentenced to five years probation, including six months of community confinement in a halfway house, 200 hours of community service, and not owning a laser pointer. He also will be required to educate people about the consequences of aiming laser pointers at aircraft. From the Contra Costa Times
According to a trauma doctor on board, “Fortunately for us, the pilot is highly experienced and dealt with it. But, had the laser caught anyone’s eye albeit briefly, it can lead to blindness for at least ten minutes and a loss of spatial awareness. Had we not taken action and avoided being been dazzled, it would have prevented us landing until the visual effects had settled, delaying treatment of the casualty. It has the same effect as deliberately slowing down an ambulance en-route to hospital. If we can find whoever is responsible, we will seek to have them prosecuted.”
From the Stratford Observer and BBC News England
David Walter Fee, 22, was charged with aiming a powerful green laser pointer at Air 43, a CHP aircraft. The pilot suffered temporary blindness and the aircraft was forced to break away from investigating a burglary in progress. Also charged along with Fee was Andrew Zarate, 20, also of Fresno. The disposition of his case is not known.
Fee faces up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines when sentenced.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Fresno Office, California Highway Patrol, and Fresno Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen A. Escobar and Michael G. Tierney prosecuted the case.
From the Fresno Bee and the April 10 2014 U.S. Attorney’s Office press release about the indictment of Fee and Zarate.
UPDATED August 11 2014 - Zarate pleaded guilty to aiming a laser pointer at a California Highway Patrol airplane. He was scheduled to be sentenced November 3 2014. Fee pleaded guilty to the same offense in June and was scheduled to be sentenced August 25 2014. From an August 11 2014 U.S. Attorney’s Office press release about Zarate’s guilty plea.
UPDATED September 29 2014 - Fee was sentenced to 18 months in prison, plus two years of supervised release. From KMJ Now.
UPDATED November 3 2014 - Zarate was sentenced to one year in prison, plus two years of supervised release. From Ars Technica and ABC30.
On January 20 2014, a National Police Air Service helicopter was at 1500 feet altitude, searching for a missing person. Gavin Hoskins was "playing" with the laser, aiming it first at rooftops and then aiming 3-4 times at the helicopter. He did not think the laser had the range to reach the aircraft, which broke off the search to track Hoskins.
According to the prosecutor, “it does not appear that the pilot on this occasion was distracted.”
When arrested, Hoskins told police that the was sorry and had been "stupid" to use the laser pen, which was still in his pocket.
The laser had been purchased in Bulgaria for his young daughter, Haskins said to police.
At trial, Hoskins admitted recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft. His lawyer said “it was not a deliberate act to endanger the pilot of the helicopter.”
The judge called Hoskin's actions "stupid and potentially extremely dangerous" and noted that a number of recent helicopter crashes have resulted in "destruction and death."
Hoskins, a security guard, lost his job -- apparently due to negative publicity surrounding the case.
From BBC News and the Western Daily Press.
Michael Pruitt, 30, was heading to St. Paul University Hospital in Dallas with a patient when a laser was aimed from the area of Interstate 35 and Harry Hines Boulevard. Pruitt was struck in the right eye.
The helicopter made an unplanned landing at Dallas Love Field. The patient, Pruitt, and the flight nurse rose in an ambulance to the hospital, a distance of about 2 miles. At the hospital, Pruitt’s eye injury was examined.
A Dallas Police Department incident report says Pruitt sustained “a burn to his right eye” and was “unable to see out of it.”
A spokesman for his employer, Air Evac Lifeteam, said “Its my understanding he’s fine.” But Pruitt’s father said his son still cannot see out of his eye and has a headache: “We think his eye will be fine, but you never know until it heals. He’s been in a lot of pain.”
An FAA spokesperson said this was “the most significant injury we’ve seen in the DFW area.”
From NBCDFW.com and WFAA.com
At the same time, several commercial aircraft in the same area reported being hit.
The helicopter directed ground officers to a property in Koondoola. They seized a laser pointer and charged a 36-year-old man with causing fear with laser or light to people in conveyances.
From 7 News and the Herald Sun
UK: Couple found in bed, having aimed laser beam at search helicopter, then hiding laser pen under a mattress
On August 27 2013, they both pleaded guilty to shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle the pilot. Additionally, Gilbert pleaded guilty to resisting arrest. There is no prison term available for the offenses, only fines. They were fined a total of £305 (USD $473): a fine of £100 each, court costs of £85, and a victim surcharge of £20.
Click to read more...
Ryan Paul Lucas
The Osceola County Sheriff’s Department was searching for two missing boaters at around 11 pm. The pilot and observer said a green laser light blinded them three times. They were able to locate the source, a vacation rental property.
Deputies entered the house where Ryan Paul Lucas gave them the laser. The Sheriff’s Department quoted Lucas as telling the deputies that he “messed up and should not have shined the light at the helicopter.” Lucas was arrested and booked. One report said Lucas was 20 years old; another said he was 21.
The missing boaters were safety located, though it is not known whether they were found by the helicopter crew.
The suspect’s arrest location, marked “A”, is about 7-8 miles from theme parks at Walt Disney World
On May 18 2012, Michael Brandon Smith, then 35 years old, aimed a green laser beam at a St. Louis Metro Air Support helicopter that was investigating a burglary. The beam illuminated the cockpit several times. The vision of the pilot and observer was affected; the observer later said he had short-term vision problems. Ground units arrested Smith -- still with the laser in his hand -- at his residence in O’Fallon, Missouri. The incident diverted the helicopter from the burglary investigation.
Smith pleaded guilty in federal court in November 2012 to one felony count of aiming the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft.
From STLtoday.com and The Republic. The story was originally briefly reported in LaserPointerSafety.com.
One of the defendants’ lawyers said the charges were overkill. KGET reported that David Torres, attorney for Brett Lee Scott, said “The penalty in the federal system with respect to this particular crime, doesn't fit at all. And, I think that when you look historically as to why this particular crime was enacted, it was enacted because of folks like Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and folks that have these laser-guided missiles, things of that nature, where they didn't want folks pointing guided lasers up in the air, things of that nature. But, here you have teenagers doing this from time to time or other individuals who are unaware of what the law is.”
- Brett Lee Scott, 25, of Bakersfield CA. Alleged to have flashblinded sheriff’s office helicopter pilots for “minutes”, and causing disorientation. The laser strikes came over a 3-month period.
- Sergio Patrick Rodriguez, aka Javier Rodrigues, 26, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lorraine Coleman, 23, both of Clovis CA. Alleged to have deliberately targeted a medical helicopter from the Children’s Hospital Central California, as well as a police helicopter sent to investigate.
- Charles Conrad Mahaffey, 22, of Clovis CA. Alleged to have aimed a red laser at a sheriff’s office helicopter, causing a law enforcement mission to be called off.
Additional details are in a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, reprinted below (click the “Read More…” link).
From KGET and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California
UPDATED November 4 2013: Charles Conrad Mahaffey pleaded guilty to the federal charge. He will be sentenced on January 27 2014.
UPDATED December 20 2013: Sergio Patrick Rodriguez was found guilty of attempting to interfere with a police helicopter. He and his girlfriend Jennifer Lorraine Coleman were also found guilty of aiming a laser pointer at the police helicopter. They will be sentenced March 10 2014.
UPDATED May 12 2014: Jennifer Lorraine Coleman was sentenced to two years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Brett Lee Scott pleaded guilty and will be sentenced July 21 2014. From the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California
Click to read more...
Ian Collins pleaded guilty to “shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot”. He paid a £400 fine plus £200 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.
From the Express & Star
The November 12 2012 warning noted that “Shining a laser at a force helicopter or other aircraft has the potential to bring that aircraft down…. [I]t could lead to someone being seriously injured or worse.”
From the Evening Times
On August 8 2012, three orange flares were spotted near Garden City Beach, S.C. A helicopter from Air Facility Charleston, S.C. arrived in the area when it was illuminated by a laser. Under Coast Guard rules, the helicopter broke off its mission and the aircrew underwent medical inspection. One crew member had direct laser exposure and was not cleared to fly again for roughly 12 hours.
A boat was sent to continue the search, but did not arrive at the scene until about two hours after the helicopter had left. At dawn, a second helicopter was sent out. Neither the boat nor the helicopter found anything unusual.
The commanding officer of the Coast Guard’s Air Station Savannah said “… every time we send our aircrews to the Grand Strand, we're telling them to fly into the equivalent of a storm, where it's almost guaranteed they'll be hit. We're simply asking the public to stop putting Coast Guard men and women in senseless and unnecessary danger."
From CarolinaLive. See a related story about the first two Coast Guard laser incidents, in July 2012, in the same area.
The story did not say whether the helicopter crew broke off their mission, or whether they completed the search before the landing. It also does not give a definition or details of the emergency; for example, whether merely having the laser in the cockpit required an emergency landing under Coast Guard procedures, or whether the crew experienced any vision or operational difficulties.
There have been six laser incidents with Savannah air station-based Coast Guard helicopters in the last year and a half, with four of these occurring during searches.
From CarolinaLive.com. In addition to this story, see additional stories at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach.
UPDATE July 28 2012: A story at Myrtle Beach Online describes the ordeal of the missing boaters, and how lasers twice forced Coast Guard helicopters to break off the search. It also has additional details about Coast Guard procedures once a laser is seen.
At a hearing on June 11 2012, Tetich was fined £465 and his laser pen was ordered to be destroyed.
The April 21 2012 incident happened in Uxbridge, 75 km northeast of Toronto. It was looking for vandals when struck by a laser numerous times over several minutes. The helicopter set down at a nearby police station, and the pilot was taken to a hospital. He was released with no apparent damage, but a police spokesperson said it could take several days for damage to emerge.
20-year-old Melissa Perry of Uxbridge was arrested, and charged with lessening the ability of a crew member to perform duties, interfering with the duties of a crew member, projecting a bright light at an aircraft, mischief endangering life, assault with a weapon and common nuisance. It is unclear from news reports whether Perry was associated with the vandals.
From DurhamRegion.com, Global Toronto and Canada.com
Analysis from LaserPointerSafety.com: If the laser is really Class 3A (less than 5 mW maximum power), the pilot’s eyes were unharmed. The Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance for a 5 mW laser with a tight 1 milliradian beam is 52 feet. This means that laser safety experts have concluded that no eye injury could occur past 52 feet. If the pilot was airborne, his eyes were likely much farther than 52 feet from the laser. (Global Toronto reported the helicopter was at 5000 feet, but that is very high for vandal surveillance; 500 feet is more reasonable.)
Plus, as explained on the Laser Safety Calculations page, there are additional factors that go into the NOHD. The result of these factors is that a 5 mW laser would have to be within 16.4 feet of a person’s eyes before there was a 50/50 chance of causing a minimally detectable eye injury. This is not opinion; this is scientific fact based on how the NOHD is derived.
UPDATE, NOVEMBER 2012: On September 21 2012, Perry pleaded guilty to one charge of violating the Aviation Act by shining a bright light at an aircraft. She was fined $500. All other charges were dropped by the Crown. From DurhamRegion.com.
Christopher Paton repeatedly aimed a 40 milliwatt green laser at the aircraft, over a period of about 10 minutes. The light dazzled the pilot and crew, and the flight path was adjusted. The laser was recorded by an on-board camera, enabling Paton’s house in Castlemilk to be pinpointed. The helicopter had been was searching for two lost 4-year-olds in Toryglen. After the search was completed, ground officers were notified. They found Paton in his back garden, where he admitted using the laser and was arrested.
From BBC News
Pilot Paul Maddox told Bristol Magistrates’ Court that the light lasted about 15 seconds. An observer crew member said “the shafts of light were moving around the cockpit, restricting me from my task.” They were able to locate Bowering on the ground, where he was arrested. He told officers he had borrowed the laser pen and did not realize the beam would reach to the helicopter. According to his lawyer, Bowering was aware that lasing aircraft was illegal.
From This Is Bristol
Update April 10 2012: Bowering avoided jail “by a whisker” according to the judge, who sentenced him to a 12-month community order. He must attend a Thinking and Skills course, has a 90-day curfew between 9 pm and 6:30 am, and has to repay £200 in court costs. The judge said Bowering had been using the laser to play with his dogs, when he aimed it into the air. The initial illumination of the helicopter was an accident, but then it was repeated, the judge found. The pilot told the court that he had “temporary black spots” in his vision which almost caused him to stray into Bristol Airport’s airspace, which could have caused the diversion of a commercial flight that was on approach. From the Guardian
Late in the evening of September 7 2011, 21-year-olds Alex Cox and Luke Fortune aimed a green laser at an air ambulance trying to land in Calne. The men disagreed about whether the laser could reach the helicopter. Cox thought it would; Fortune thought it would not. In court testimony, the men also disagreed about which one of them aimed at the helicopter.
The pilot tried three times to land but could not due to the laser interference. An ambulance was called to pick up the patient, a man in his 70’s suffering a heart attack. It took 25 minutes to reach the Great Western Hospital in Swindon by road; it would have been 10 minutes by air. According to the ambulance service, it was “unlikely” that the helicopter would have been able to reach the hospital in time to save the man.
Cox and Fortune pleaded guilty to directing or shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot. They told the court their actions were stupid and very dangerous, and that they were sorry.
A Daily Mail article about the case has a sidebar listing four “laser pen pests” who received sentences from four to eight months, in cases ranging over the April-November 2011 timeframe.
From the Daily Mail. The original LaserPointerSafety.com news item about the incident, from September 2011, is here.
An air operations supervisor said “such acts defy belief.” He noted that police can easily locate laser offenders and ground units can arrive “very quickly.”
The Cambridge News said that in 2010, there were five incidents involving lasers being aimed at the Cambridgeshire police helicopter.
From the Coventry Telegraph and the Cambridge News
Late on September 7 2011, paramedics and an ambulance responded to a call about an elderly man who had collapsed in Caine, Wiltshire. They found the man had gone into cardiac arrest, and they called for the assistance of the Wiltshire Air Ambulance helicopter. It landed at the site but then took off again to burn fuel in order to carry the patient. As it tried to land for a second time, a “group of yobs” flashed laser pens at the pilot. He broke off the landing. The patient was then taken by ambulance to Great Western Hospital in Swindon, 20 miles away by road. Upon arrival, the man was pronounced dead after midnight on September 8.
Police said “at this stage, we are satisfied that the helicopter not being able to land did not affect the outcome of this incident.” They are searching for the laser-wielding perpetrators and are beginning a criminal investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call (0845) 4087000.
From The Independent , Wiltshire Times and BBC News
UPDATE September 15 2011: A story in the Gazette and Herald has some additional details about the incident.
UPDATE 2 March 15 2012: The two persons involved, Alex Cox and Luke Fortune, pleaded guilty. They had to pay £278 each and were given a conditional discharge (no punishment provided that no further offense is committed). More details are in a LaserPointerSafety.com news item here.