The US attorney’s office and the FBI this week charged a California couple with shining a laser into the cockpit of a sheriff’s department helicopter, a federal criminal complaint that could land them in jail for up to 20 years and earn them a $250,000 fine.
The federal criminal complaint was filed on December 13, against Jared Dooley and Kendra Snow. The complaint states that on November 8, 2007, at about 10:55 p.m., a green laser beam illuminated the cockpit of a Kern County Sheriff’s Department helicopter, which was flying at 500 feet during routine patrol in Bakersfield, California. When the light hit the cockpit, it disoriented the Kern County Sheriff’s pilot, causing pain and discomfort in his eyes for a couple of hours, the FBI said in a statement.
Despite the vision problems, the pilot and a tactical observer in the helicopter were able to pinpoint the origin of the laser beam at Dooley’ house. On November 27, FBI and local police executed a federal search warrant, locating a hand-held green laser device in Dooley’s pickup truck and a red laser device in his home. Both Dooley and Snow later admitted they had used the green laser device on the night of the incident, the FBI stated. Snow told investigating agents that she and Dooley were standing in the driveway on November 8 and “taking turns shining the laser around watching the tracers in the sky.”
Lasers pose a safety hazard to flight operations, the FBI said and between 1990 and 2005 there were over 400 of them. The focused beams of a laser light remain powerful at extended viewing distances and can expose pilots to radiation levels above those considered to be flight safe. Brief exposure to even a relatively low-powered laser beam can cause discomfort and temporary visual impairments, such as glare, flash blind, and afterimages.
The FBI noted that it is illegal to target aircraft and represents a danger to flight crews and, potentially, the public from an accident that could occur if a flight crew is impaired in its ability to safely operate its aircraft. Many lasers are over 10 times more powerful than the typical red laser pointers used in the classroom or workplace and can cause significant damage to the eyes.
And there has been a rash of incidents recently.
· A 13-year-old boy was arrested in November on suspicion of reckless endangerment after he allegedly pointed a green laser at a Phoenix Police Department helicopter, police said.
· Three police forces and the US Coast Guard on this month chased down a Boston-area man who faces the possibility of federal charges after allegedly pointing a hand-held laser beam at a helicopter.
· Last week a UK man was arrested after he almost caused a police helicopter to crash when he shone a laser into the pilot's eyes. The laser disabled the crew’s night-vision lights.