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US: UPDATED - 3 pilots go for eye treatment after multiple LaGuardia laser illuminations

A pilot on an Air Canada commercial airliner, and two New York police officers on a helicopter, sustained eye injuries from a laser beam pointed at aircraft flying into and out of LaGuardia Airport on March 9 2015. According to police, the helicopter officers were treated and released in stable condition. The Air Canada pilot was taken to a hospital in Toronto for treatment.

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 laser
Elehecer Balaguer in court


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: Balauger 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, Balauger 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.

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Russia: Aeroflot pilot "barely averted" a crash due to teen aiming laser pointer

The pilot of an Airbus 320 with 128 people on board said he “barely averted a crash” after a laser beam “remained in the cockpit almost until the plane touched down”. The laser attack occurred at 5:49 a.m. local time September 22 2011 in Barnaul, capital of the Russian federal district Altai Krai, in Siberia. The laser was wielded by a 15-year-old boy who could not sleep and aimed a pointer out his window.

The boy told police that he “had not planned to blind the pilot and had only directed the beam at the flashing lights of the airplane.” Police said his parents would be fined 500 rubles (USD $15) for negligence.

The deputy chief of police at the Barnaul airport, Andrey Spiridonov, said that tragedy was avoided by a miracle.

Pic 2011-09-25 at 2.34.43 PM
The laser pointer being displayed by police; the boy’s apartment building, mother and bedroom window. Larger versions are in a
photo gallery at Altapress.ru.

Pic 2011-09-25 at 3.00.54 PM
Barnaul, Altai Krai federation, Siberia

Pic 2011-09-25 at 3.41.08 PM
It is about 4.5 miles from Barnaul Airport (red marker) to the boy’s apartment building (green marker) at 35 Sunny Glades. Click on map for a larger image.

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