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Bluffdale man facing charges for shining laser into cockpit

By Jed Boal | Posted - Feb. 25, 2009 at 10:00 p.m.



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BLUFFDALE -- A Bluffdale man is facing federal charges after he admitted to shining a laser beam at an Apache helicopter near his home Thursday night.

This isn't the first time someone has targeted aircraft in the area with a laser beam in Utah, but it is the first time a suspect will have to answer for the crime.

Chief Warrant Officer Ken Sampson pilots Apache helicopters for the Utah Army National Guard. He was piloting the chopper targeted last week.

Chief Warrant Officer Ken Sampson
Chief Warrant Officer Ken Sampson

Sampson says he and his co-pilot were returning from training when a green light lit up his window not once, but twice. "It was strong enough that it illuminated my window, but not the entire cabin," he said.

They knew it was a laser, so they circled back toward Bluffdale and pinpointed the source. "They contacted the sheriff's office, and we sent a deputy to that location," explained Lt. Don Hutson, spokesman for the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies knocked on doors and met a 30-year-old man. "He mentioned to us that he does have a laser pointer and he was in the backyard at that time," Hutson said.

The man told deputies he uses his laser light to play with his cats. He also admitted he shined his light at the helicopter.

"He pointed it at the helicopter but believed that the helicopter was way too far away for it to make an impact or even see," Hutson said.

Bluffdale man facing charges for shining laser into cockpit

Sampson says it was brighter than a pen laser, but not a military-grade laser. "Well, it's dangerous, first of all, because you're interfering. And you know, there are other lasers that are much stronger than what we got illuminated with that can cause blindness or even worse," he said.

Two years ago, the FAA totaled 200 laser flashings over seven years in the Western United States. So far this year there have been nearly 150 reports. On Sunday night, a dozen planes were laser targeted in 20 minutes.

No accidents have been linked to lasers, but Congress outlawed laser targeting of planes in May 2007. The crime can land you in prison up to five years.

Any time you are interfering with aviation operations, whether it's flying or pilot decision making, that's very serious," Samson said.

The U.S. Attorney is reviewing the case and considering charges. It's not easy to track down the criminals in cases like these, but a Florida man was nabbed last year when he shined a laser at a Sheriff's helicopter.

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com

Jed Boal

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