Home Los Angeles Press Releases 2009 Orange County Man Who Fired Lasers at Commercial Aircraft Sentenced to 2.5 Years in Federal Prison

Orange County Man Who Fired Lasers at Commercial Aircraft Sentenced to 2.5 Years in Federal Prison

U.S. Attorney’s Office November 03, 2009
  • Central District of California (213) 894-2434

LOS ANGELES—A resident of Orange who willfully interfered with aircraft pilots by intentionally shooting a laser at two commercial airliners that were on approach to John Wayne Airport has been sentenced to serve 30 months in federal prison.

Dana Christian Welch, 38, was sentenced yesterday afternoon by Senior United States District Judge Robert J. Timlin. Welch was sentenced after being convicted in April of two felony charges.

The evidence presented at trial showed that Welch intentionally aimed a handheld laser at two Boeing 7-series jets 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 was the first person in the nation to be convicted at trial of interfering with aircraft pilots by shooting lasers at their planes.

The case against Welch was the result of an investigation by the FBI's multi-agency Orange County Joint Terrorism Task Force, in partnership with the Orange Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff's Department. The Airborne Law Enforcement Unit at John Wayne Airport provided considerable assistance. Personnel with United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines cooperated during the investigation.

CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Sherilyn Peace Garnett
National Security Section
(213) 894-3424

Assistant United States Attorney Richard Y. Lee
National Security Section
(213) 894-2692

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