FAIRFAX, VA., Fairfax County Police report that they are investigating an incident involving spotlighting the agency’s helicopter, creating dangerous visibility issues for the pilot and crew.
While returning to the helicopter base on Tuesday, February 24 around 8 p.m., the pilot observed a bright light illuminating Fairfax One. It appeared that the bright white light was following the aircraft and the beam lit up the entire cockpit. It appeared to come from a home and police are working on developing positive identification of a suspect(s) and placing appropriate charges.
Fortunately, the pilot was not using night vision goggles at the time of the incident. Had he been, the bright light would have created a temporary blindness and been extremely dangerous.
There are specific laws that are applied to situations where spotlights or lasers interfere with the safety of flights, including:
5.1-22. Interference with operation of aircraft; penalties; venue. Any person who interferes with or threatens to interfere with the operation of any aircraft, unless he is authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration or the armed forces of the United States, on or over the territory of the Commonwealth shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Where the act or acts of interference or threatened interference are of such a nature as to endanger the life of the aircraft’s operator or the life of any other person, the person interfering or threatening to interfere shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony. Any person who knowingly and intentionally projects a point of light from a laser, laser gun sight, or any other device that simulates a laser at an aircraft is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Venue for the issuance of a warrant for the arrest and trial of any such person is hereby conferred upon any court having criminal jurisdiction in the political subdivision in the Commonwealth where the aircraft either took off prior to such offense, or where it lands or comes to rest subsequent to such offense, or in or over which the offense occurred.
In this case a “laser” wasn’t used but there have been past incidents involving laser pointers. Federal law prohibits this and states that pointing a laser at any aircraft, helicopter or fixed wing, is a federal crime with a punishment of up to 5 years imprisonment. The FBI offers a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest of any individual who aims a laser at aircraft.
For more information on the FCPD helicopter unit, check http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/