A federal judge in Wisconsin sentenced the man to two years in prison on Thursday for the incident that occurred in 2021.
James Link, 43, of Rochester, Minnesota, pleaded guilty to holding a laser on a plane in January this year.
Pilots of the Delta Air Lines plane that flew from Raleigh-Durham to Minneapolis on October 29, 2021 said they were lasered three times. They said the cockpit was illuminated with a blue laser while flying at an altitude of about 2,750 meters just west of River Falls in Wisconsin.
“The vision in his right eye was impaired for a few hours”
The US attorney general’s office in Madison said in a statement released by the Justice Department that the pilots had instructed air traffic control to change runways after the laser “caused a great deal of distraction in the cockpit because they couldn’t look at their iPads to report a new approach.”
The plane landed safely, but one of the captains said that vision in his right eye was impaired for several hours after the incident.
While air traffic control summoned a Minnesota State Patrol plane to investigate the incident, the pilots of that plane were also fired a blue laser while circling over the River Falls that same night.
“The suspect was identified using the aircraft’s surveillance equipment”
“Using the aircraft’s surveillance equipment, they were able to identify the suspect, coordinate with local law enforcement, and monitor the defendant until officers contacted him,” the statement said.
In a statement to the court, the plane’s captain pilot drew attention to the “high brightness” of the laser, comparing it to “all the lights in a dark room flashing suddenly” at a critical stage of flight operations.
“It could have had disastrous consequences”
“A small mistake at this critical stage could have had disastrous consequences,” the captain told the court.
“Incredibly dangerous and reckless”
US District Judge William M. Conley said the act of aiming a laser at the plane was “incredibly dangerous and reckless” and put everyone on board in “incredible danger”.
The court also noted Link’s “fluffy criminal record”, which included “lots of domestic violence” and an incident in 2017 where he “shone a flashlight in the eye of the arresting officer”.
According to Federal Aviation Administration figures, incidents of laser exposure to aircraft and helicopters reached a record high in 2021, a 41 percent increase from the previous year.