NJ Man In Trouble Over Sky Lasers

Laser light over jet in flight, drawing, on texture, partial graphic
AP
A man who initially claimed his daughter aimed a laser at a helicopter was charged after he told federal agents that he pointed the light beam at two aircraft, authorities said Tuesday.

David Banach of Parsippany faces charges of interfering with the operator of a mass transportation vehicle and making false statements to the FBI. He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court on Tuesday afternoon.

"The FBI is investigating a rash of these incidents around the country. Prosecutors are using Banach to get the message out that they will not treat these cases lightly," reports CBS News Producer Kathy Mountcastle at the Justice Department.

The aircraft were targeted by the lasers near Teterboro Airport.

On Wednesday night, a pilot preparing to land a chartered jet with 13 people aboard reported seeing three green laser beams about 11 miles from the airport. On Friday, a helicopter carrying Port Authority detectives was hit by a beam as they surveyed the area in an attempt to pinpoint the origin of the original beams.

The two incidents were among a rash of recent reports of lasers allegedly aimed at aircraft, raising fears that the light beams could temporarily blind crew members and lead to accidents. Last month the FBI and the Homeland Security Department sent a memo to law enforcement agencies saying there is evidence that terrorists have explored using lasers as weapons, though federal law enforcement officials have said there is no evidence of any terrorist plot in the current incidents.

According to court papers, under questioning Banach admitted lying and said he shined a laser beam at both the jet and the helicopter. He has not been charged in the helicopter incident.

His lawyer, Gina Mendola-Longarzo, who had defended him in local newspapers, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.

"I think they were pointing it at houses, and up at the stars," Mendola-Longarzo said this weekend. "It's not terrorist activity."

The chartered jet was flying at about 3,000 feet when the pilot and co-pilot saw a green laser beam strike the windshield three times, according to court documents filed Tuesday. The flash blinded the two temporarily, but they were later able to land the plane safely.

After the helicopter crew also reported seeing laser beams, FBI agents canvassed Banach's neighborhood trying. Banach told the agents it was his daughter who shined a beam at the helicopter, according to court papers. He denied the laser was in use when the jet had passed nearby. But later, Banach submitted to a lie detector test and eventually said he shined the laser beam at both aircraft, according to the court papers. The papers did not give any alleged motive.

Teterboro Airport is in northern New Jersey, about 16 miles from New York City. It handles mostly charter and corporate aircraft, as well as general aviation. Parsippany, where Banach lives, is about 20-25 miles due west of Teterboro.

Meanwhile, FBI officials said a laser beam aimed at a Chicago-bound jet may have been a prank, adding that terrorism has been ruled out.

The flight crew of a United Airlines flight to O'Hare International Airport from Nashville reported seeing a green laser beam Sunday night shortly after the plane took off, said Lynne Lowrance of the Nashville International Airport.

The flight, United Express 7136, which had about 30 people on board, landed safely in Chicago. The airport property was canvassed and nothing suspicious was found.

"We know that there wasn't any terrorism involved and it possibly could have been someone playing a prank," Doug Riggins, of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, said Monday.