Man arrested for repeatedly pointing laser at news helicopter

Authorities arrested Stiven Lopez-Bender on Thursday, a day after a criminal complaint was filed accusing him of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft.

PTI| Last Updated: Jan 08, 2016, 18:42 PM IST

New York: A 26-year-old man has been arrested in the US for allegedly pointing a green laser at least four times at a TV news helicopter racing to the scene of a fire.

Authorities arrested Stiven Lopez-Bender yesterday, a day after a criminal complaint was filed accusing him of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, the US Attorney for New Jersey's office announced.

If convicted on the charge, he could be jailed as many as five years and be forced to pay as much as a USD 250,000 fine.

So-called laser attacks have become an increasing problem in the US, in part because handheld lasers have become more common and affordable. To this point, while there were a mere 283 such strikes, the Federal Aviation Authority reported 3,984 in 2014.

That works out to about 10.5 incidents a day. And the rate has only gone up since then, with the FAA reporting 5,352 such strikes for 2015 as of mid-October. On a single day last May, 12 commercial aircraft got struck by lasers just in New Jersey, CNN reported.

Lasers can burn the cornea of a pilot, in some cases sending them to the hospital. The Transportation Security Administration has described them as the "equivalent of a camera flash going off in a pitch black car at night."

The incident allegedly involving Lopez-Bender got a lot of attention in part because of video from CNN affiliate WABC, which showed a conspicuous green laser glaring at the chopper.

The criminal complaint in that case states that a WABC reporter and helicopter pilot were flying about 1,000 feet up toward a fire in Elizabeth, New Jersey, when a green laser was aimed at and struck the flight deck of the helicopter through the main windshield.

Law enforcement officers caught up later that day with the suspect, who "admitted that he pointed a green-color laser at the WABC helicopter several times," the complaint states.

President Barack Obama signed a law in 2012 making it a federal crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. Two years later, the FBI launched a new public awareness campaign on the issue and authorised rewards up to USD 10,000 to track down anyone responsible, the report said.