Crime

Ferndale man tells police he was just seeing how far his new laser would shine

Why is it dangerous to point a laser at aircraft

Aiming a laser at an aircraft creates a serious safety risk that violates federal law. High-powered lasers can completely incapacitate pilots flying aircraft that often carry hundreds of passengers.
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Aiming a laser at an aircraft creates a serious safety risk that violates federal law. High-powered lasers can completely incapacitate pilots flying aircraft that often carry hundreds of passengers.

A Ferndale man reportedly shined a green laser at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine helicopter as it flew over the town Tuesday night, Sept. 10.

Ferndale police seized the laser as evidence and forwarded the case to the Customs and Border Protection office to consider federal charges against the man, who was not identified in a press release from the Ferndale Police Department.

According to the release, the incident occurred at approximately 10:15 p.m. while the helicopter was flying above the 6300 block of Portal Way.

The pilot reported that the helicopter had been flashed by a green laser from the ground, and helped direct police to the location where it was seen.

Ferndale officers spoke to the man at the residence, according to the release, and he admitted that he had recently purchased the laser and said he shined it at the helicopter to see how far the laser would shine. He also reportedly told officers he did not know the severity of his actions.

“Shining lasers at any aircraft is extremely dangerous and can blind the pilot jeopardizing the safety of the crew, passengers, and any people and property on the ground,” Customs and Border Protection spokes person Jason Givens told The Bellingham Herald. “The penalty for lasing an aircraft includes imprisonment for up to 5 years (18 USC 39A), and the penalty for interfering with a flight crewmember includes imprisonment for up to 20 years (49 USC 46504).”

Tuesday night’s incident was not the first time lights have disrupted air operations above Whatcom County.

In 2011, a Lynden man was sentenced in Seattle U.S. District Court to two months in prison, 90 days home detention, three years community supervision and a $5,000 fine after he shined a spotlight on a CBP helicopter patrolling over his home, blinding the pilot who was wearing night-vision goggles.

In 2016, a green laser shined at a U.S. Coast Guard boat caused the crew to cancel a scheduled nighttime air-sea rescue training session with a helicopter.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
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