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US: Long Island man arrested after aiming laser at plane, then police helicopter

David Smith was arrested after first aiming a laser at an aircraft, and then aiming at the police helicopter searching for the laser source.

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 laser
David Smith, arrested for lasing aircraft

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.

There are slightly conflicting reports about the aircraft’s location and destination. Trying to reconcile accounts, it appears the plane was lased 5 miles northwest of MacArthur Airport at 3,000 feet altitude (Newsday, CBS New York), while traveling east to Republic Airport where it would land (New York Post).

The map below shows Smith’s house (red symbol in St. James) and the approximate position of the airplane (green symbol with triangle) if it was 5 miles northwest of MacArthur Airport. The plane would be about 2 miles from Smith’s house, and 15 miles from Republic Airport.

Pic 2011-12-12 at 2.58.57 AM

The green position is consistent with the majority of laser illuminations, where the beam source is within a few miles (ground distance) from an aircraft. At that distance, it would not take much laser power to be a hazard. Specifically, a green 5 milliwatt “legal” laser pointer poses a distraction hazard up to about 2.2 miles away.

From the New York Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, the Wall Street Journal, CBS New York and NBC NewYork