Laser aimed at police helicopter--again
A Fairfax police helicopter returning to its base Thursday was hit by a laser flash, temporarily blinding crew members, police said, and leading to the second felony arrest since February for interfering with a flight.
Michael E. Promisel, 18, of the 8900 block of Glenbrook Road, was charged after officers on the ground were called to search for the source of the laser allegedly aimed at the helicopter as it passed over Mantua Elementary School on Horner Court shortly before midnight July 15, police said.
Promisel is charged with interfering with the operation of an aircraft and endangering the life of the aircraft’s operators, a felony under Virginia law.
Chuck Angle, a civilian pilot for 12 years with the Fairfax department, said the crew was about 1,400 feet up and returning to its base close to Fair Oaks Mall after helping in a search for a robbery suspect near Mount Vernon when the laser hit the cockpit. The green light hit the flight officer beside him in a flash that "is like being hit with a hammer when you get it in the eyes," said Angle, who said he was hit by a laser two years ago flying near Dulles.
The flight path by the school, Angle said, is one also used by medical helicopter crews flying in that area and Angle said he called the air traffic tower at Dulles International Airport to warn other pilots of the hazard.
The crew trained its infrared cameras on a group on the ground that its third crew member saw and tracked them as they drove away from the school, relaying information to patrol officers who investigated and made the arrest.
"Helicopters are very unstable, so you interfere with that flight or the pilot and it's not like a plane that can keep holding the course," said Angle. "It's not a prank."
A grand jury set for August will determine whether 47-year-old Raymond J. Poli of Springfield should stand trial for allegedly aiming a green laser at a crew that passed over his house in late February. Poli's attorney has said his client brought out a flashlight, then turned to a green laser to try to see through pre-dawn fog to determine whose helicopter was overhead.
The laser cases are unusual but not a rarity. Pilots told the Federal Aviation Administration of about 1,476 incidents of lasers flashed into their aircraft during 2009, with 20 of those in Virginia and 13 in Maryland, federal records show. The number has risen steadily in the past five years from the 283 reported to the FAA nationwide in 2005 (with 3 three in Virginia and two in Maryland).
Nationwide, prosecutions have increased for lasers aimed at aircraft and resulted in some recent prison terms in California and Arizona.
(This entry has been updated since it was first published)
--Mary Pat Flaherty
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