Teen allegedly shines laser at pilot

IAN ROBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:08 PM ET

TORONTO - A Durham Region resident accused of endangering a police helicopter crew by flashing them with a hand-held laser device faces prison and a fine of up to $100,000 under the federal Aeronautics Act.

Durham Regional Police spokesman Dave Selby said Tuesday a chopper team flying over Ajax had to take evasive action after being hit with an "intense green light" about 365 metres above the ground Saturday evening.

They were assisting officers in cruisers, who were searching for a suspected impaired driver.

Pilots across North America — including at busy Pearson International Airport — have been plagued by laser pranksters who either don't know or don't care that they could cause a crash if the pilot's eyes became damaged, or if they become disoriented. Uncontrollable sneezing is a common reaction.

From 2005 to 2008, Transport Canada reported 33 incidents of pilots seeing "a light" while flying – several times being temporarily blinded as aircraft were about to land on runways. In addition to the GTA, police in Saskatchewan, Alberta and a U.S. department of homeland security helicopter in British Columbia were targeted during that period.

South of the border, the U.S. Federal Aircraft Administration reported 900 incidents of lasers shot at aircraft.

In May, 2008, York Regional Police called for a ban on high-powered laser pointers after two of their chopper pilots were hit by blinding lights while on patrol.

In the most recent incident, officers spotted the green light coming from among a group of people standing behind an Ajax home, Selby said.

Patrol officers drove there, seized a hand-held laser and arrested a man.

Brendon Schoenwald, 19, of Hills Rd., Ajax, is charged with endangering life, obstructing police, being a common nuisance, and committing mischief to public property.

Schoenwald is also charged, under the Canadian Aviation Regulations, with projecting a directed bright light source at an aircraft, contrary to the Aeronautics Act under dangerous behaviour regulations.

In a police statement, Staff-Sgt. Alan Mack, who heads the Durham air support unit, warned that shining laser beams from small hand-held devices "creates potential hazards for aircraft operations.

"When directed into the cockpit, laser lights can create temporary blindness that may affect the pilot’s ability to operate the aircraft safely," Mack said. “We take incidents of this nature very seriously.”

Anyone convicted under the Aeronautics Act of aiming a laser into an aircraft's cockpit faces a fine of up to $100,000 and/or five years in prison, according to Transport Canada's website.


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