A police helicopter
U.S. Attorney Deborah R. Gilg announced Wednesday that Michael A. Smith, 30, of Omaha, was convicted by a federal jury for aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. Smith was arrested after he was identified for using a laser pointer to strike Abel 1, the Omaha Police Department’s helicopter.
On July 11, the helicopter patrol received a report in the early morning hours that a Southwest Airlines flight scheduled for landing in Omaha had been struck by someone using a laser pointer.
Abel 1 responded and was also struck by a laser beam seconds after becoming airborne, while heading in the direction provided by the Southwest pilot, Gilg said.
As Abel 1 approached the area of 152nd St. in northwest Omaha, the cockpit was repeatedly struck by the laser to the point of causing the pilots to be distracted and temporarily blinded from the refraction of the laser beam, Gilg said.
After being struck as many as 6-7 times, the pilots of Abel 1 narrowed the area from which the beam was coming and sought ground support from a Deputy Douglas County Sheriff,
Gilg said the deputy was able to locate Smith in his back yard. Smith was actively aiming the laser pointer in the direction of the area where Abel 1 was hovering when contacted by the deputy, Gilg said.
Aiming a laser at an aircraft is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.
The case was tried in front of U.S. District Judge John Gerrard. Gerrard set sentencing for July 22.
Smith was ordered detained by U.S. Marshals, pending sentencing.
In addition to the air patrol units of the Omaha Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the case was also investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Gilg said.
If you aim a laser beam into the sky, it may seem to end, but the beam actually continues even if you cannot see it, according to LaserPointerSafety.com, an entire website devoted to the issue.
The beam is small close up, but it grows larger at long distances, no longer a millimeter-sized dot. At longer distances the beam can be several inches across. And when the beam hits the windscreen of a cockpit, or the bubble of a helicopter, imperfections in and on the glass can spread the light even more, according to the website.
Laser light in the pilot’s eyes causes glare -- the inability to see past the light. At higher power levels, it could cause temporary flashblindness and afterimages, like when you look at a bright camera flash and cannot see for a several seconds afterwards. Since the beam can’t be held completely steady on the cockpit, the pilot may experience more than one bright flash.
Also, because laser gunsights are common, people get very worried when someone points a laser at them.