On October 29, 2021, while landing at Minneapolis International Airport, the cockpit was struck by a bright blue laser beam. Experienced pilots who have been at the controls for more than 28 years have presented evidence in court that they were literally blinded by a beam from the ground. At that moment, the plane was at an altitude of 2 740 meters, and the pilots were making a landing approach.
Before the incident, air traffic control gave the command to change the runway. Adding to an already high workload, the laser beam prevented the pilots from viewing their iPads to plan a new approach. The Airbus A319 landed safely, however the captain indicated that the vision in his right eye had been impaired for several hours after the incident.
The captain noted the brightest flash and compared it to “the sudden inclusion of all the lights in a dark room.” The pilots immediately switched their priority to eye protection, with the first officer using an iPad as a shield instead of reporting flight status. The captain wrote: “Any slight mistake at this critical stage could lead to disastrous results. The defendant's actions created a serious threat to the safety of the crew and all passengers on board the aircraft.
As soon as the laser beam was reported, Air Traffic Control contacted the Minnesota State Patrol and informed them of the incident. A patrol plane was sent to investigate. At an altitude of 1,000 meters, the same laser hit the pilots of the patrol. Using surveillance equipment, they were able to contact and coordinate with local law enforcement to apprehend the suspect.
Police officers found a blue laser on him. He claimed to have aimed a laser at drones without realizing they were aircraft because they “remained still.”
At sentencing, the judge confirmed the perpetrator's extensive criminal record, including multiple domestic assaults. The judge also denied his claim that he did not know that aiming lasers at aircraft was dangerous, despite over 10,000 media reports of laser attacks over the past two years.
As the judge noted, in In this incident, experienced Delta pilots were forced to save their eyes rather than maneuver, putting all passengers and crew on board at risk.