MSP: A lot of people do not realize extent of damage pointing laser at helicopter can cause

A laser pinpointed on a state police helicopter has landed a mid-Michigan man in jail.
Published: Jun. 3, 2022 at 10:14 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WNEM) - A laser pinpointed on a state police helicopter has landed a mid-Michigan man in jail.

Authorities said a 59-year-old Flint man was arrested early Friday morning after they say he repeatedly pointed a laser at the trooper three helicopter.

“It’s alarming,” said MSP trooper Nick Olivo. “While we were on patrol, our aircraft was illuminated by a laser.”

Olivo is a pilot for the state police aviation unit and a tactical flight officer. During this incident, he was watching the camera and communicating with officers on the ground.

“We engage what we call laser protection shields on our helmet, which helps mitigate the effects of the lasers on our eye and then after that we start looking for where the laser, where its point of origin is. If we can find and locate its point of origin, we will direct ground officers to that,” Olivo said.

He said it took about 15 minutes to track down and arrest the suspect pointing this laser beam at the chopper.

Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a five-year felony under state law.

“A lot of people don’t realize the extent of the damage it can cause. This isn’t a problem just for state police aircrafts, this is a problem for aviation in general. Commercial pilots, airline pilots, general aviation pilots, this is something that happens to everyone,” Olivo said.

These incidents show a year to year increase nationwide, with the most ever recorded last year.

This year is on a similar pace with more 3,000 reported through the end of April. Olivo said that tiny beam of bright light can cause serious harm in the air.

“It disperses itself throughout the windscreen and it becomes pretty much impossible to see outside. It can cause ocular damage and the biggest thing it can cause is spatial disorientation, which can cause problems maintaining control of the aircraft,” Olivo said.

That did not happen this time.

“I don’t know what people think whenever they put the laser in their hand and decide to point it up at an aircraft, but before they do that, I hope that they take pause,” Olivo said.

Pointing a laser at an aircraft is also a federal crime.  Additionally, the FAA can impose civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation.