A green laser beam so powerful it made the pilot shield his eyes struck the cockpit of a JetBlue plane on Saturday night. The plane, flying in from Portland, was readying to land at JFK International Airport when the event occurred. The beam had come from the shoreline and was pointed directly at the cockpit. The plane made a safe landing, and nobody was injured; but police are investigating.
The question is, was this some sort of accident, or an intentional act carried out to interfere with – or even bring down – the flight?
The case is reminiscent of a June 2008 case in Cleveland where four people were arrested for aiming a green laser at the cockpits of planes and helicopters. The incident involved two passenger planes, a police helicopter, and a life services helicopter. The pilot of the police helicopter reported being temporarily blinded by the beam, which created a disorienting matrix effect.
Later that year, a WestJet pilot was hit in the eye with a green laser beam while his plane was taking off from the Calgary airport; it was the 4th reported incident that year of a laser beam striking planes in that airport. Transport Canada also said they had received 73 reports of similar incidents since 2003.
In January 2010 Dana Christian Welch from Orange County became the first first person in the United States to be convicted of interfering with pilots by aiming lasers at their planes. Welch aimed a laser beam at two Boeing passenger planes as the pilots were about to land at John Wayne Airport. One of the pilots reported temporary blindness due to the beam. Welch received 2 & 1/2 years in Federal Prison for that incident.
Pilots in the cockpit of a Swiss Air plane landing at Kastrup Airport in Copenhagen were briefly blinded by a green laser beam aimed at their aircraft in March 2010; Swedish police considered the act attempted aircraft sabotage.
A casual search on the Internet for green laser beams directed us to this model for $69.99:
"This pointer is significantly brighter (about 50 times) than a red laser pointer and because of its unusual color it is much more noticeable. I mean come on, a 532 nm green laser wavelength is obviously superior to a laughable 650 nm red laser wavelength. And unlike a red laser, the green beam itself can be seen in mid-air in dark conditions, not just the laser beam dot. This allows the green laser pointer to be used for pointing to star constellations (skypointing) and also just generally look cool as hell. The green laser beam dot can be seen at much greater distances than with a red laser pointer."
But the listing also comes with this warning:
"Warning: Green lasers are very powerful. Pointing at aircraft may land you in jail. Without a Monopoly card to get you back out. Use it wisely."