A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
On August 21 2012, a Sun Country Airlines chartered Boeing 737 was illuminated by a green laser beam while at 12,000 feet over Suffolk County on its way to John F. Kennedy International Airport. A Suffolk County police helicopter was sent to investigate and also had a green beam pointed at it. The police pilot was able to trace the beam back to the home of Angel Rivas in Shirley, a community in the town of Brookhaven on Long Island’s south shore. After landing, the three persons on the police helicopter were treated at a hospital and released.
At Rivas’ home, patrol officer, Matthew Dewitt, confronted the 33-year-old, who denied aiming at the aircraft. No action was taken due to a lack of any other evidence.
On January 4 2013, Dewitt was responding to a call of an altercation at a convenience store. Rivas turned out to be one of the persons involved. When asked for ID, Rivas said he did not have any due to a suspended license, and then told Dewitt “You know me, you were at my house, I was the one who lasered the plane.” Rivas was immediately arrested, advised of his Miranda rights, and was taken into custody.
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As of July 26 he had not been charged with a crime. However, an investigation is continuing, especially to find out if the boy was responsible for the July 15 lasing of a JetBlue flight that drew nationwide attention.
From Newsday, NBC New York and CBS New York
The First Officer was in command of the aircraft when two flashes of green laser light came into the cockpit, about 10 minutes before the plane landed safely at JFK. After landing, he went to a local hospital for an examination. Apparently, no other person on the flight was adversely affected by the laser light.
The FAA and FBI are investigating the incident.
Flight path of JetBlue Flight 657 on July 15 2012, from FlightAware
From myfoxny.com, NYCAviation.com, NBC 4 New York, and ABC News.
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: The FAA defines a laser eye “injury” as anything which happens to an eye, including temporary afterimages and watering eyes. According to this definition, around 1.5% of all laser illuminations of aircraft result in an eye “injury”. In 2011 there were 55 FAA-reported “injuries” out of 3,191 total laser incidents. From Jan 1 to June 28 2012, there were 20 “injuries” out of 1,519 incidents.
Almost all of what FAA calls “injuries” are in fact normal eye effects resulting from bright light exposure. For example, a person temporarily flashblinded by a camera’s flash would be “injured” according to FAA, although eye safety experts clearly state that an afterimage is temporary bleaching of photoreceptors and is not an injury.
Using a scientific definition of visible laser eye injury, meaning a minimally visible lesion on the retina, there have been no documented permanent laser eye injuries to pilots in any of the over 11,000 FAA laser incidents on record. This is according to FAA’s top laser/aviation safety expert. There have been roughly 3-5 temporary laser eye injuries where pilots had a lesion which was medically visible, and which subsequently healed to leave no spots or other adverse vision effect.
This is not to discount any eye effect or distraction of pilots -- aiming lasers at aircraft is a crime and a serious safety issue. But FAA should be more accurate, and give additional information, when providing information about pilot eyes affected by laser light.
On December 5 2011, a small single-engine plane was preparing to land at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, Long Island, NY. The pilot reported seeing a light aimed towards him (some sources say it was red, others say it was green). FAA officials informed Suffolk County police. The Suffolk Police helicopter sent to investigate was also targeted by the laser. They easily traced the laser back to its source, Smith’s home in St. James, NY. Ground units then moved in to arrest the 21-year-old. It took about an hour from the time of the FAA call to Smith’s arrest.
David Smith, arrested for lasing aircraft
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On December 9, Smith was charged with “obstructing governmental administration in the second degree”. Additional charges may be filed by the Port Authority Terrorism Task Force and perhaps the FAA and other governmental agencies.