22 Oct 2014

Fears lasers will lead to air tragedy

6:43 pm on 22 October 2014

It will take a tragedy before there are changes to the way the courts deal to people who shine lasers at airplanes, the Airline Pilot's Association says.

A laser beam in Paris.

A laser beam in Paris. Photo: AFP

Jarryd Hector was today handed down a sentence which included a curfew for four nights a week and 150 hours community work for the offence when he appeared at the Manukau Dristict Court.

New Zealand Airline Pilots' Association technical officer David Reynolds said that was not good enough.

"Sadly, I think something horrible has to happen. God forbid it ever does but, quite frankly ... People are still not getting the message that it is an extremely dangerous and reckless thing to do - pointing a laser at an aircraft," he said.

"The other issue appears to be that the judiciary are just not taking this serious either."

Mr Reynolds said there needed to be a specific law against pointing lasers at aircraft in order to send a clear message to the public.

The court was told Hector was drinking and smoking cannabis at a party with friends in the East Auckland suburb of Howick on 6 July, 2012, when he shone a laser at a Boeing 737 for up to 30 seconds.

Meanwhile, about 35,000 feet up, flight 554 from Christchurch and carrying 113 passengers and five crew was preparing to land.

Pilot distracted

According to the police, Captain John Gemmell was distracted for about 30 seconds as a green light was shone into the cockpit. He reported the laser strike to air control who notified police.

The police attended the Howick party, where they found Hector. He admitted using a laser but said he was not pointing it at the plane.

The matter went to a jury trial, which found Hector guilty of endangering transport, a crime which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years' prison.

Crown prosecutor Fiona Culliney told the court the laser could have blinded the pilot and had the potential for a huge loss of life.

Judge Gus Andree Wiltens said not only was there a risk to the people in the air but the plane was on a flight path over a residential area and could have caused huge damage on the ground.

He said Hector was 19 years old at the time and had come from South Africa to start a new life but that this was not his first charge.

He sentenced him to community detention for four months which will result in him being under curfew from Thursday to Sunday, saying there would be no more partying. He also imposed drug and alcohol counselling and 150 hours' community work.

Case not the first

In March last year, James Spiers and Joshua O'Hare-Knight were found guilty of causing unnecessary danger to an aircraft.

They shone a laser into the cockpit of the police helicopter and temporarily blinded the crew.

Spiers was sentenced to 140 hours of community service, while O'Hare-Knight was given 160 hours.

In September 2012, Pravikash Chandra, 19, was sentenced to four-and-a-half months' home detention on four charges of endangering transport.

And in August 2009, Vladimir Maricic was sentenced to 200 hours' community work when he admitted shining a light at a plane as it prepared to land at Wellington Airport.

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