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US: Citizen calls 911, concerned that laser-pointing man would aim at aircraft

The following appeared in a newspaper's list of police blotter reports from Kalispell, Montana:

"A customer leaving a store was concerned a man sitting in an SUV and playing with a green laser pointer in the parking lot would point it at the airstrip to mess with planes."

From the April 1, 20201 Daily Inter Lake. (Despite the date, the story and the account were standard news, not an April Fools joke.)

COMMENTARY FROM LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM

This is one of the first news items we have seen where a member of the general public notified authorities because of concern about pointing a laser beam at aircraft. It shows a case of a person having knowledge that lasers do present a hazard to aviation, and consequently taking action. This news item has been given a Tag "Notifying authorities" which we will use for any similar stories.

US: Crew member seeks medical help after laser aimed at Customs helicopter

A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Blackhawk helicopter was illuminated with laser light on March 24 2021 near Bellingham, Washington. One of the two CBP agents onboard sought medical attention for an unspecified eye injury or issue.

The helicopter had been doing training approaches to Bellingham International Airport when the cockpit was illuminated. Deputies on the ground located 34-year-old Ronald Gregory Boettcher. He said he did not have a laser and did not aim a laser at an aircraft. Deputies found he did have a laser pointer. He was arrested on suspicion of unlawful discharge of a laser.

The CBP agent's medical condition and prognosis was not available.

From The Columbian and TickleTheWire.com

US: 12 months probation for Virgina woman aiming laser at police aircraft during protest

A woman from Richmond, Virginia was sentenced on March 23 2021 to 12 months probation for aiming a laser beam at a police aircraft during a protest.

On June 4 2020, a green laser beam was aimed at the aircraft, which was monitoring civil unrest at the [Robert E.] Lee Monument, a 21-foot tall statue of the Confederate general sitting on a 40-foot pedestal. The air crew directed officers on the ground. They found and arrested 33-year-old Amanda Robinson.

In November 2020 she pleaded guilty. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the mother of 4, who had no previous criminal record, could have been jailed for up to 6 months. Both her lawyer and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia asked for no jail time, because Robinson did not know that shining a laser at aircraft was hazardous, and because she cooperated with prosecutors.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch

UK: Virgin Atlantic flight turns back after laser strike

According to Virgin Atlantic airlines:

"On 15 March 2021 flight VS453, operating from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport, returned to Heathrow after take-off due to a laser beam incident upon departure.

The safety and security of our people and our customers is paramount and this was a precautionary step taken by the operating crew.

We'd like to thank our customers for their patience and apologise for any inconvenience caused.

All customers were offered overnight accommodation and we are working hard to ensure they are able to continue their journeys as soon as possible.

As is standard procedure for a laser incident, we swiftly notified the police and remain in close contact with them and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)."


The Boeing Dreamliner B789 aircraft took off from Heathrow at 9:34 pm GMT. At about 10:00 pm, while flying at an altitude of 41,000 ft, it began a U-turn southwest of Paris. The flight landed back at Heathrow at 10:47 pm.


2021-03-15 Virgin Atlantic 453 Heathrow 01 before turn 50pct
Approximately 10:00 pm the aircraft begins its U-turn

2021-03-15 Virgin Atlantic 453 Heathrow 02 after turn 50pct
A few minutes later, it is on its way back to Heathrow…

2021-03-15 Virgin Atlantic 453 Heathrow 03 on approach 50pct
… landing at 10:47 pm.

According to the Aviation Herald, the pilot was climbing out of Heathrow when the captain was illuminated by a laser beam. His or her condition worsened, with vision in only one eye, so the crew decided to turn back. They declared a "pan-pan", which is an urgent situation not posing an immediate danger. (This call is one level down from a "mayday", meaning imminent danger to life or the aircraft.)

The Aviation Herald also cited an Israeli media report that the laser perpetrator had been arrested.

From the
Aviation Herald and the Daily Mail. Graphics from FlightAware.com

COMMENTARY BY LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM

This is the second time we are aware of that a commercial flight has turned back after having laser light from the ground interfere with the crew. On February 14 2016, a Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to New York was illuminated by green laser light 6 miles west of London while flying at 8,000 feet. That flight continued for a while but then turned back over Ireland due to the first officer having vision problems. A story with links is here.

We have also reported on a few other times that aircraft have changed course, or the many times that police or other public service flights have had a mission interrupted, because of laser interference.

UK: 59-year-old convicted of aiming a laser at a police helicopter

A 59-year-old man was convicted after a "sustained laser attack" on a National Air Police Helicopter flying over Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire on April 11 2020.

The helicopter crew directed Humberside Police to a location where Trevor Cheeseman was arrested. He pleaded not guilty in December 2020. In early March 2021, Cheeseman was given a 12 month sentence, suspended four months. He was convicted of shining a laser beam towards a person providing air services, causing the laser beam to dazzle or distract that person.

From GrimsbyLive. Although the story says the sentence was 12 months with four months suspended, the headline states "Man avoids prison…" The apparent discrepancy may be due to factors of British law or judicial terms.

US: Colorado group says crew member lost vision permanently after 2017 laser strike

Two separate February 19 2021 news reports about a Colorado air medical transport group, Flight For Life, say that in 2017 a crew member suffered permanent vision loss after being illuminated with laser light from the ground. According to an article in the Pueblo Chieftain, "In 2017, a respiratory therapist flying out of Denver permanently lost 30% of his vision in his right eye."

This was echoed in a TV report on KRDO, where a registered nurse said "In 2017, we had a crew member hit with a laser, he lost 30% of his vision in his right eye, and that was permanent damage." Another nurse told the TV reporter that after a laser illumination, "I lost my vision for a few minutes due to black circles. And then I had about a three to seven day [period] of almost just sand and painful vision for a few days."

No further details were given in the news reports. On March 1, LaserPointerSafety.com reached out to Flight for Life for more information.

Both accounts described how Flight For Life helicopter crews in Southern Colorado have been subjected to laser illuminations that have been recently increasing.

In both accounts a crew member described the light as being similar to directly looking at a camera flash. According to the Pueblo Chieftain article, "Several Flight For Life members across Colorado have had to take time off in the past to allow their eyes to heal after a laser strike."

From the Pueblo Chieftain and KDRO

UK: Six months for "idiot", "liar" who claimed he pointed his laser at a UFO

A judge sentenced a 39-year-old man to six months in jail, after he repeatedly aimed a laser at a police helicopter, claiming it was a UFO.

On August 17 2020, the aircraft was searching for a missing person in Keighley, West Yorkshire when it was illuminated by laser light multiple times. There was no apparent ill effect on the pilot other than closing his eyes as a reflex. The crew located the source and passed the information to ground officers.

When Benjamin Fort was arrested, he first said he had been using the laser to look for rabbits, then said he aimed the laser at a "UFO". Fort said the laser pen was inexpensive so he did not think the light would get near the helicopter.

At trial, the judge said both explanations were lies: "…the reality is there was no, and never could be, any justification for what you did."

During the trial, Fort's past issues with alcohol, severe depression, and paranoia were raised. For example, at the first sentencing hearing in January 2021, Fort arrived drunk. Three officers took him to a holding cell to sleep off his inebriation. Sentencing was re-scheduled for February 26 2021.

On that date, the judge said he wanted Fort to spend years in prison because he was an "idiot" for aiming at the helicopter. He did not think such a long sentence would be sustained at appeal, so he handed down a sentence of six months.

From BBC News and the Telegraph & Argus

US: Two teen brothers arrested for aiming laser at sheriff's helicopter

Two brothers, age 15 ad 18, were arrested on February 20 2021 for aiming a laser at a Kern County Sheriff's Office helicopter in Bakersfield.

The pilot was able to direct ground officers to a home where the two teens were arrested for discharging a laser at an aircraft while in flight.

From KGET.com

US: Florida man aims laser towards helicopter, arrested with meth

33-year-old Stephen Gladu was arrested February 15 2021 for shining a green laser three times at an Indian River County Sheriff's Office helicopter.

Both the pilot and tactical officer had the laser light shined into their eyes. They found the source was a vehicle. A deputy on the ground stopped Gladu, who told them he had been watching the stars. He said he was not aiming at the helicopter and any hit was accidental.

During the arrest, Gladu was found to have 7 grams of crystal methamphetamine in a baggie.

Gladu, who lives in Riverview in Hillsborough County, was charged with misuse of laser lighting and possession of a controlled substance.

Stephen Gladu laser squashed
Stephen Gladu


From TCPalm

US: Virginia woman pleads guilty to aiming laser at police aircraft during protest

From a press release by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, dated November 23 2020:

Woman Pleads Guilty to Aiming Laser Pointer at Police Aircraft

RICHMOND, Va. – A Henrico woman pleaded guilty today to aiming a laser pointer at a police aircraft while at the Robert E. Lee Monument during a period of civil unrest.

According to court documents, on June 4, Amanda Robinson, 33, traveled to the Robert E. Lee Monument traffic circle located in Richmond. While at the traffic circle, Robinson pointed her laser pointer at a 2006 Cessna aircraft flying above her location operated by police officers of the Metropolitan Aviation Unit. The Metropolitan Aviation Unit officers were conducting aerial surveillance patrols during a period of civil unrest. In aiming the laser pointer, Robinson struck the aircraft on at least two separate occasions and disrupted the pilot’s vision. Using an onboard camera, the police officers identified Robinson as the individual aiming the laser pointer and directed police units to her location. Upon arriving to the Robert E. Lee Monument traffic circle, police patrol units detained Robinson and recovered a green laser pointer from her possession.

Click to read more...

US: Bakersfield Calif. man indicted for aiming laser at sheriff's helicopter

From a press release by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California, dated January 25 2021:

Bakersfield Man Indicted for Laser Strikes on Sheriff Helicopter

FRESNO, Calif. — Andrew Nathan Hernandez, 18, of Bakersfield, was arrested today for aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.

According to court documents, on Dec. 26, 2020, Hernandez aimed the beam of a laser pointer at the Kern County Sheriff’s helicopter Air-1. Hernandez is scheduled to be arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe on Tuesday, Jan. 26.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bakersfield Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.

If convicted, Hernandez faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charge is only an allegation; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

US: Two arrested during MLK Day demonstration at San Jose mayor's home

Two persons were arrested for aiming a laser pointer at a police aircraft and at officers on the ground, during a Martin Luther King. Jr. Day demonstration at the home of the mayor of San Jose, Calif. One person was an adult; the other was a juvenile.

The January 18 2021 incident resulted in declaring the gathering an "unlawful assembly" so police could legally disperse the crowd.

In a tweet, San Jose police said of the laser strike "This is not only a felony but extremely dangerous for our pilot and crew. This will not be tolerated."

From a San Francisco Chronicle article (paywall) excerpted at Patch.com

Wales: Man claims rescue helicopter in the way of laser beam; search called off due to laser strike

A 29-year-old man was sentenced on January 6 2021 to 30 weeks in prison for aiming a £9 laser pen at a police helicopter searching for a missing teenager in Swansea, Wales.

On September 2 2020, a National Police Air Service helicopter with a crew of three was searching for a missing female teen at about 2:40 am when it was hit by five or six "bright green, sharp lights" lasting 5-10 seconds each. The pilot was momentarily blinded and was disoriented; another crew member was dazzled. The crew abandoned the search due to the pilot's loss of vision.

Ground officers went to a location pinpointed by the helicopter's thermal imaging camera. They smelled marijuana and found William Andrew David James Fellowes with a laser pen. He later told police he had been pointing at stars and the pilot got in his way. He said he did not know the sky light was a helicopter and thought it was a bird, a satellite or a hot air balloon.

Fellowes pleaded guilty to directing a laser beam towards a moving police helicopter in violation of the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act of 2018.

At trial the prosector said the aircraft was circling at 1,000 feet with its flying lights illuminated. He said the aircraft would have been obvious to ground observers.

The court was told that Fellowes had 30 previous offenses, including battery, possession of a knife, criminal damage, theft, and possession of cannabis with intent to supply.

Fellowes defense barrister said he "now realized how serious his actions had been and was remorseful for what he had done."

The judge found that Fellowes had not deliberately meant to harm the crew but his actions could have resulted in an accident, and did result in diverting the missing person search.

After sentencing, a South Wales Police superintendent said "National Police Air Service are a valuable partner who regularly assist us with our policing operations and searches. On this occasion they were performing a vital duty and assisting us to look for a vulnerable and suicidal young girl who had been reported missing…. The actions of this individual not only prevented them from carrying out these important duties but potentially could have had devastating effects in causing the helicopter to crash."

The head of safety at the National Police Air Service said during 2020 there had been an average of six laser attacks per month on its aircraft.

From Wales Online. The article includes photos and a video from the police helicopter.