Home Los Angeles Press Releases 2009 Orange County Man Convicted on Federal Charges for Shooting Laser at Commercial Aircraft

Orange County Man Convicted on Federal Charges for Shooting Laser at Commercial Aircraft

U.S. Attorney’s Office April 23, 2009
  • Central District of California (213) 894-2434

LOS ANGELES, CA—A resident of Orange has been found guilty of willfully interfering with aircraft pilots by intentionally shooting a laser at two commercial airliners that were on approach to John Wayne Airport.

Dana Christian Welch, 37, was convicted yesterday afternoon of two felony counts, each of which carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

The evidence presented at trial showed that Welch intentionally aimed a handheld laser at two Boeing 7-series jet airplanes that were preparing to land at John Wayne Airport on the night of May 21, 2008. The first plane, a United Airlines jet, was carrying more than 180 passengers and crew members. The second plane, operated by Alaska Airlines, was carrying more than 80 people. Welch's green laser beam entered the cockpit of the United plane, striking a pilot in the eye and causing the pilot to experience “flash blindness.” Welch also pointed the green laser beam into the cockpit of the Alaska plane, causing one pilot to duck under a glare shield extending from the dashboard in the cockpit and the other pilot to delay a critical turn necessary to land the plane. After he was arrested the next day, Welch admitted that he had pointed the green laser at two planes and a law enforcement helicopter that had been dispatched to investigate the incidents.

The jury that convicted Welch of shooting the laser at the United and Alaska flights acquitted him of charges that he attempted to interfere with the operators of the helicopter and a Delta Airlines flight.

While several people across the United States have pleaded guilty to federal charges of pointing lasers at aircraft, Welch is the first person in the nation to be convicted at trial of interfering with aircraft pilots by shooting lasers at their planes.

Welch is scheduled to be sentenced by Senior United States District Judge Robert J. Timlin on September 15.

“With powerful technology making its way into the hands of the general public, everyone must realize that there are responsibilities associated with the use of devices than can have an impact on public safety,” said United States Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien. “Mr. Welch ignored those responsibilities and put at risk the lives of hundreds of people.”

Salvador Hernandez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, stated: “This conviction should make clear to those contemplating the targeting of cockpits with lasers that such behavior is not only dangerous, but criminal, with serious consequences attached. Pilots with the Costa Mesa Police Department and officers with the Orange Police Department should be commended for their quick response leading to this arrest.” The successful federal prosecution of Welch was the result of the coordinated efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Orange Police Department, the Costa Mesa Police Department, and personnel with United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines.