A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
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 in court
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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.
Stephen Francis Bukucs, who worked as a private security guard
An AP report said Bukucs pleaded not guilty. He told a judge that he pointed at aircraft over 25 times “for excitement, for thrills”. He would listen to the resulting law enforcement response on a police scanner.
The judge ordered a mental health evaluation for Bukucs, who has no prior criminal record.
UPDATED October 25 2013: Bukucs was identified through sophisticated surveillance coordinated by the FBI, according to a search warrant application detailing the operation. Begun in August 2013, it involved the use of video-equipped aircraft to identify the laser source, secret cameras installed to monitor Bukucs’ apartment, and physical surveillance by Special Agents. An account of the operation is here.
UPDATED March 17 2015: Bukucs was sentenced to six months in federal prison on March 16 2015, with an additional three years probation after his release. Bukucs had pleaded guilty on July 15 2014 to aiming at two commercial airliner flights. Bukucs confessed to the FBI that, over several months, he had targeted up to 25 aircraft and that he did so for entertainment and as a “cat-and-mouse” game with the police who pursued him. According to the U.S. District Attorney, the laser beam Bukucs had was a high-powered version, not the type used in an office presentation.
His arrest occurred after intense air and ground surveillance by FBI agents and police officers. A task force involving the FBI, Portland police, Port of Portland police and other agencies, flew two airplanes as decoys in August 2013 to try and draw out the perpetrator. Investigators reported over 100 laser strikes from the vicinity of defendant’s apartment in 2013.
Prosecutors sought a two year sentence. The judge granted leniency (six months) because Bukucs was suffering from mental illness. His girlfriend had died from a seizure, leading him to abuse prescription painkillers and to deliberately target aircraft with the laser pointer. In court, Bukucs apologized and said he was ashamed. He knew the laser could annoy pilots but denied he had malicious intent: “I was just being stupid. I look back now and I'm so embarrassed by my actions." From a March 17 2015 FBI press release (reprinted below), a July 15 2014 Oregonian news story, a March 16 2015 Oregonian news story, and an AP report in the Greenfield Reporter.