‘Serious safety risk’: Man arrested after pointing laser at planes, temporarily blinding one pilot
An Airbus A320 United Continental passenger plane rolls on take off at Newark Liberty International airport. (Photo: Mel Evans, AP)
Two planes were struck by a lasers, which temporarily blinded one of the pilots, as they flew into Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida Wednesday night.
Both planes landed safely.
“[They] were intentionally targeted and struck by bursts of a laser light as they were approaching,” Ted Kohuth, chief of police at the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority, told USA TODAY.
One of the planes was a small aircraft, a Cessna Skyhawk, and the other was a United Airbus A320 coming in from Newark, New Jersey.
When the laser struck the Cessna Skyhawk between 7:25 pm and 8:15 p.m., the pilot’s sight was “temporarily impaired,” according to Kohuth. The pilot reported that his vision was still blurry 40 minutes after the incident and was taken to a local medical center, then discharged, according to a police report obtained by USA TODAY.
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Less than an hour later, around 8:55 p.m., an inbound United commercial flight reported “intense green laser light,” before landing without issue.
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the incident and deployed a helicopter to search the surrounding area.
Police found and apprehended 41-year-old Charlie Chapman Jr. in a construction site on a forklift, according to the police report. He was arrested on multiple charges for multiple offenses, according to the report.
Video footage from MCSO of the arrests shows Chapman pointing the laser at the police helicopter before throwing other objects at the aviation unit.
Chapman told police that he believed he was pointing his laser at a drone, not an airplane, according to the police report.
Kohuth said he thought there was no way it could be accidental.
“Aiming a laser at an aircraft is a serious safety risk and violates state and federal law,” Kohuth said. “Many high-powered lasers can completely incapacitate pilots who are responsible to fly safely to their destinations and may be carrying hundreds of passengers.”
Legislation that President Obama signed into law in 2012 criminalized pointing a laser at an aircraft. The crime is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
“Shining a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft is not only criminal, it is a serious safety issue for pilots,” U.S. Attorney David Hickton in Pittsburgh said after the law was approved. “Many high-powered lasers can completely incapacitate pilots, who are trying to fly safely to their destinations, and often times with hundreds of passengers aboard.”
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Contributing: Bart Jansen
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