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US: Five more flights struck by lasers over NY and NJ; coordination by social media?

Five aircraft in the New York and New Jersey area reported being illuminated by lasers, from 9:25 pm local time July 21 2015 through 12:10 am July 22, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The incidents as a whole do not seem to be related. Two of the aircraft were struck near Warwick, New York, about 40 miles from Newark Liberty International Airport, two others were within 20 miles of Newark Liberty, and the fifth plane was about 20 miles southwest of LaGuardia Airport.

In addition, two airplanes approaching Boston Logan International Airport were illuminated by laser beams at 10:39 pm and 11:28 pm on July 22. One pilot said “The next thing I know, the entire cockpit goes green. It’s incredible scary losing your night vision when you are coming in to land. This is not at all funny, not at all, considering the incredible risk involved.”

The Boston Herald quoted a former pilot and crash investigator, Dale Leppard as saying “Last weekend [July 18-19] there were 38 incidents from San Diego to New York and several of them in New Jersey, including eight or nine within a few hours, which seems to me like it is a coordinated effort because they’re so spread out. I think it is a very serious issue and I’m wondering if it is being coordinated on social media. There’s just too many of them happening all at once over too wide of an area. The worst part is that it can blind you, literally. I don’t mean temporarily, I mean it can blind you for life.”

From the Benchmark Reporter and Boston Herald

US: UPDATED - 3-year prison sentence for targeting police helicopter

A Massachusetts man was sentenced to three years in federal prison, for the December 8, 2007 illumination of a state police helicopter. The charges included “willfully interfering with an aircraft operator with reckless disregard for human life”, and making false statements to arresting officers.

52-year-old Gerard Sasso aimed a Class 3B green laser, said to be “at least five to ten times more powerful than an ordinary laser pointer” [approximately 25 to 50 milliwatts], at a helicopter that was escorting a liquified natural gas tanker through Boston Harbor. The pilots took evasive action, but the cockpit was hit and filled with “an intense sparkling green light”. The pilots and Coast Guard were able to trace the source to Sasso’s apartment in Medford. He “falsely and repeatedly” told police he was not the perpetrator. However, officers saw a laser pointer and he then admitted lasing the aircraft. Eleven lasers were seized from his apartment.

News reports quoted prosecutors as saying that Sasso was the second person in the U.S. to be convicted of lasing an aircraft. They also pointed to the November 2009 sentence of a California man who received 2.5 years for shining a laser at two airplanes and temporarily blinding a pilot. [This may refer to federal prison sentences, since others in the U.S. have received jail time for laser/aircraft incidents. The Nov. 2009 reference is to Dana Christian Welch.]

Island Crisis and the Boston Herald. Thanks to David Freihofer and Paul Berthot for bringing this to our attention.

UPDATE August 1 2012: Sasso’s case was appealed on grounds that the jury was given incorrect instructions at the January 2010 trial. The jury was told that it was sufficient for them to find that Sasso “willfully” aimed his laser at the helicopter. However Sasso’s public defender argued August 1 2012 in appeals court that Sasso had to willfully know that his actions would interfere with the aircraft operator. Thus, the jury should have been told to determine if Sasso knew the laser could interfere. An updated story is here at LaserPointerSafety.com.