A WestJet pilot flying from Newfoundland to Florida had his eyes burned by green laser light in the evening of May 18, 2019.
The plane, a Boeing 737 registered C-FZRM, was carrying out flight WS1948 from St. John’s International Airport (YYT), Canada to Orlando International Airport (MCO), United States.
A United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokeswoman, Kathleen Bergen, said in an email to the Associated Press that the plane of Canadian carrier WestJet was about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from its destination when laser light struck the pilot.
The flight crew reported the incident to the air traffic control (ATC). Upon arriving safely in the airport, the pilot received medical attention and was placed on sick leave which is the normal procedure in such cases.
“Any pilot who reports being struck by a laser is required for safety and health reasons to have an ophthalmology evaluation,” WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell said in an email to The Canadian Press, adding that “When any sort of light enters the flight deck, pilots are trained to look away and maintain focus but they must also maintain vigilant with respect to their surroundings and monitor the apron prior to landing”.
An investigation was opened by both the FAA and the U.S. police. The plane was above Volusia County during the incident. The day following the event, the local sheriff office dispatched an agent to the residence where the beam allegedly originated from but did not find any laser on the spot.
According to the U.S. Securing Aircraft Cockpits Against Lasers Act of 2011, the person responsible for the attack considered a federal offense, risks a five-year prison sentence and a fine that may vary between $5,000 and $250,000. In 2017, the FAA received 6,754 reports of laser strikes on aircraft, a 250% percent increase since the administration started tracking laser strikes in 2010.
In May 2018, the flight crew of a USAF C-130 Hercules was injured by dangerous laser activity at Camp Lemonnier base in Djibouti. The Pentagon issued a notice to its airmen in the region, while the U.S. government filed a diplomatic complaint publicly accusing the Chinese personnel that had been deployed in Djibouti base since 2016. In recent years, China has been developing “blinding laser weapons”, as reported in 2015 by its official military newspaper, the PLA Daily.
In 2014, a man in California, United States, named Sergio Rodriguez was sentenced to 14 years in prison after repeatedly striking the cockpit of a police helicopter with a high-powered green laser pointer. The device was 13 times more powerful than a common laser pointer. Such lasers are legal in the United States as long as they are not advertised as “pointer”.