A man in Virginia was just arrested after he used a laser pointer to try and blind a police helicopter by shining it into the helicopter’s windshield. The police helicopter was searching for a fugitive from justice at the time of the laser incident.
The Fairfax County Police Department announced in a statement on its Facebook page that its helicopter, Fairfax 1, was in the process of helping Virginia State Police search for a suspect that ran from troopers when a person in an apartment complex began pointed the laser at the helicopter.
The crew, fortunately able to keep the chopper stable despite the blinding effects of the laser, used the helicopter’s FLIR system to find the apartment balcony from which the laser was coming. Speaking about that in the Facebook post, the police department said:
Pointing a laser at an aircraft is illegal and also a very bad idea when that aircraft is a police helicopter. Around 11:25 p.m. on Friday, Mar. 10, our helicopter, Fairfax 1, was helping Virginia State Police search for someone who ran away from their Troopers. While overhead, the crew of Fairfax 1 saw someone pointing a laser at the aircraft. The crew used the chopper’s FLIR system and discovered the laser was coming from a balcony apartment in the 9200 block of Ashland Woods Lane. Detectives from our Special Investigation Division were able to identify the 25-year-old man and arrested him for interference with the operation of an aircraft. He was released on a secured bond.
ABC explained why lasers are so dangerous to shine at aircraft in an interview with a pilot, asking what the laser does to blind the pilot and why it’s such a problem to shine one in the cockpit. Here’s part of that interview:
Q: “What happens to the pilot when somebody aims a laser at the cockpit?”
A: “It’s a sudden flash that can flash-blind you to the point that you can’t really see what you’re doing. If it gets both eyes, which is possible, the pilot’s going to be fairly well out of the loop.”
Q: “What’s the worst-case scenario?”
A: Our nightmare scenario here is getting a pilot – either one or two pilots, however many there are in the cockpit – so flash-blinded that he or she can’t land the airplane, can’t even see to fly it. You wouldn’t think of a little green laser as having the power to bring down an airplane full of people, but if you get the eyes of pilots flash-blinded at the wrong moment, you can do that – and you could end up killing 400 people.
ABC also noted that shining a laser at an aircraft is a serious crime, saying, “Pointing a laser into a cockpit is a federal crime, with a potential five-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine.”
Fortunately, the Fairfax police were able to find and catch the suspect before he did any real damage with his laser pointer. But it’s still terrifying to imagine planes falling from the sky because of crazies with lasers.
They also included a video of the incident, watch it here:
Featured image credit: screengrab from the embedded video
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