Laser Strike Against Aircraft
|FBI St. Louis July 25, 2011|
St. LOUIS—On July 1, 2011, Justin Stouder completed a one-year pre-trial diversion program for pointing a laser at an aircraft. A pre-trial diversion is offered to eligible offenders who agree to follow terms and conditions of supervision and probation. After successful completion, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agrees to not pursue charges.
Special Agent in Charge Dennis L. Baker of the FBI St. Louis Division said, “If you’ve ever had another driver shine high beams on you at night, you know how blinding that can be when you’re driving. The lasers are even more intense for pilots. We appreciate Mr. Stouder’s courage to publicly speak about what he did so others will learn from his mistake.”
On the night of April 27, 2010, Stouder and his friend were in his front yard testing a laser pointer. Stouder was aiming the laser at a distant tower when a Metro Air Support police helicopter appeared in the line of sight an estimated 1.5 miles away. That’s when Stouder pointed the laser at the helicopter at approximately 1,500 feet in the air.
St. Louis County Police Sgt. Dan Cunningham and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officer Doug Reinholz were piloting the helicopter on regular patrol. “People don’t realize by the time the laser hits us, the beam of light has grown, it’s no longer a pinpoint,” said Officer Doug Reinholz. “And the plexiglass on the helicopter disperses the light even more. It was very disorientating.”
Within minutes, officers converged on Stouder’s home and arrested him. “The lesson I learned is that everything you do affects others. At the time, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Now I know I could’ve caused the pilots to crash,” said Stouder. Even though Stouder will not have a criminal record, he lost two career opportunities while his case was pending.
This past January, the FAA announced there were more than 2,800 reports of lasers pointed at aircraft in 2010. That’s a record since the FAA began keeping track in 2005. In the St. Louis area, the average is two incidents per month during the first half of this year and all of last year. These are reported incidents at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and at Spirit of St. Louis Airport.
Interfering with the operation of an aircraft is a felony. You can be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison, five years of supervised release, and pay a $250,000 fine.
In addition, the FAA announced on June 1, 2011 it will begin to impose civil penalties against people who point a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft. The maximum civil penalty the FAA can impose is $11,000 per violation.
To see what it’s like for a pilot sitting in a cockpit during a laser strike, visit: http://www.laserpointersafety.com.
The video was produced in 2009 for the FAA and the U.S. Air Force.
The St. Louis Laser Strike Working Group, which formed to combat laser strike events against aircrafts, consists of:
- Federal Aviation Administration
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Hazelwood Police Department
- Missouri State Highway Patrol
- Southwest Airlines
- St. Louis Airport Police Department
- St. Louis County Police Department
- St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
- Transportation Security Administration
- U.S. Attorney’s Office
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection