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"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.
Approximately 10:00 pm the aircraft begins its U-turn
A few minutes later, it is on its way back to Heathrow…
… 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.
Virgin’s website stated that “Following this incident the first officer reported feeling unwell. The decision was taken by both pilots to return to Heathrow rather than continue the transatlantic crossing."
The airline said passengers would stay overnight and would then be able to fly to JFK Airport “as soon as possible”.
Police were attempting to find the laser source, said to be 6-7 miles from the airport. An article in the Daily Mail included a map showing the aircraft’s takeoff pattern, and the area where the laser beam was thought to have originated.
From the Telegraph, Daily Mail, BBC News and ITV. Audio recording from AirportWebcams.net.
UPDATED February 15 2016: The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) called for “the Government to classify lasers as offensive weapons which would give the police more power to arrest people for possessing them if they had no good reason to have them.” From a statement on BALPA’s website, reprinted here.
UPDATED February 17 2017: A forum post claiming to be from the Virgin Atlantic pilot gave details about the incident. The person posted under the handle “scroggs”. He wrote: “I am the Captain in this event…. It was a red beam, not a green one. It was indeed reported as and when it happened. The pictures we got show its ground position (which wasn’t Legoland as far as I can see), and will hopefully help those in the know to estimate its power and provenance.”
Scroggs continued: “As was reported in the news, the FO did receive retinal damage from what appeared to be a 'lucky' passing sweep, but it's not permanent and will heal fully. There was no visual impairment during the flight, but there was no way of knowing (for me) that that would continue to be the case. The symptoms were slow in making themselves apparent. That's about all I'm prepared to say for now.” From post #173 in a thread on PPRuNE.org about the incident.
Background commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com
After around 40,000 laser incidents reported to U.S. FAA and U.K. CAA from 2004 through 2015*, as of February 14 2016 this is the first occurrence we are aware of where a commercial aircraft has turned around and not completed its flight, due to a laser incident from the ground.
- There have been a few instances where a flight has changed course, such as pilot doing a “go around” on landing because of laser light on the first attempt.
- Some police and rescue operations have had their missions disrupted by a laser; this has been common for the U.S. Coast Guard which has operational rules requiring a mission to abort if there is laser illumination.
- In 2013, there was an incident where an aircraft made an emergency diversion 224 miles short of its destination, because a passenger onboard was using a homemade laser to burn several small holes in fabric near his seat. This is the only other emergency diversion we are aware of due to laser misuse.
As of February 14 2016, there is no confirmed, documented case of permanent eye injury to a civilian pilot (commercial, general aviation, or police/rescue) due to exposure in the cockpit to laser light from the ground.
In a fall 2014 case, first publicly reported about a year later, a British Airways pilot illuminated by a laser on landing at Heathrow was treated at a Sheffield hospital for spots on his retina. The case was reported in a medical journal in January 2016 which said the area had healed within two weeks. An expert close to the case, who directly examined the journal paper and the evidence, told LaserPointerSafety.com in February that he does not believe the retinal injury was laser-induced, and that it was “not confirmed” as a laser injury “despite what the journal paper says.”
*29,097 laser incidents reported to U.S. FAA, Jan 1 2004 through Dec 31 2015; plus “more than 8,998 laser incidents” reported to U.K. CAA “between 2009 and June 2015.”