Video shows Virginia man pointing laser at police helicopter during a pursuit: "A very bad idea"
A man in northern Virginia was arrested last week in connection with an apparent laser strike that targeted a local police helicopter during a pursuit, authorities said.
The suspect, an unnamed 25-year-old man, had been released on bond when the Fairfax County Police Department detailed the incident in a post shared to Instagram on Wednesday. He was initially taken into custody for interference with the operation of an aircraft, according to the police department. Anyone who interferes or threatens to interfere with an aircraft without previously receiving authorization to do so from the Federal Aviation Administration or the U.S. Armed Forces can be charged with a Class I misdemeanor in Virginia.
"Pointing a laser at an aircraft is illegal and also a very bad idea when that aircraft is a police helicopter," the Fairfax County Police Department wrote on Instagram.
The Instagram post included a video that appeared to be recorded from inside the police helicopter, which flew over a cluster of residential buildings last Friday night while "helping Virginia State Police search for someone who ran away from their troopers." It showed the laser, a bright green beam of light, pointed in the helicopter's direction from the window of a building on the ground below. The laser appeared to move rapidly in circular motions, and police department personnel inside the aircraft can be heard instructing one another to put on protective goggles as they zoomed in on the laser with their camera.
The incident happened at around 11:25 p.m. EST on Friday night, according to Fairfax County police. The crew on board the helicopter, called Fairfax 1, was able to pinpoint the location of the laser using its FLIR system's thermal imaging functions and sensors, the police department said. They discovered that the laser was coming from the balcony of an apartment located in a southern section of Fairfax County, about 20 miles south of Washington, D.C. Police detectives from the department's special investigation division proceeded to identify and arrest the suspect.
Laser strikes targeting aircrafts of all kinds are becoming more prevalent across the United States, federal officials reported last year. Data released by the Federal Aviation Administration in April showed that the number of reported laser strikes jumped by 41% in 2021 and totaled more than 9,700 individual incidents — more than one every hour — with California, Texas and Florida recording the most strikes by state.
While also being illegal, laser strikes on aircrafts are dangerous and can potentially blind pilots who are steering them. Forty-seven pilots reported injuries linked to laser strikes in 2021, according to the FAA. Laser strikes can cause temporary blindness and, potentially, long-term eye injuries, and they often occur when aircrafts are closer to the ground, like when they are preparing to land.
Deputy Ben Sehorne, of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office in Palmetto, Florida, recalled his own experience being hit by a blinding laser beam in comments to "CBS Mornings" last year. The incident occurred that February, while Sehorne was at the controls and flying low in the sheriff's office's helicopter.
"All you see is green," he said. "So, it's very disorienting."
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