Pierce County, Wash. - The cockpit of a Washington state patrol airplane was targeted by a laser being aimed from the ground as the crew patrolled I-5 looking for speeders and drunk drivers early Sunday morning. A green light filled the cockpit, nearly blinding the pilot and co-pilot.
“Not only can it cause permanent vision loss to a pilot or anyone on the aircraft, but obviously if you impair the vision of a pilot for a minute or a second you’re putting a lot of people at risk,” said WSP spokesman Trooper Guy Gill.
The aircraft was targeted twice, allowing the crew to target the location. Then using a sophisticated infrared camera, they activated a GPS map layover of the live video image that includes streets, street names and even address of the ground below in real time. The crew quickly spotted a figure in the infrared image standing outside a trailer at a park along River road.
Troopers on the ground were guided to the park and placed Aaron Huffman, 27, into custody, charging him with illegally discharging a laser. The charge is a felony carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison. According to a probable cause affidavit, Huffman at first denied pointing the laser at the plane, then admitted it, saying he bought the device on the Internet.
Huffman pleaded not guilty to the charge during an appearance in Pierce County Superior Court on Tuesday. His bail was set at $30,000.
“We don’t know if this is his first time doing this or if he targets other aircraft,” said Gill. Gill said the WSP’s airborne patrols have been targeted by lasers several time before this incident. This was the first time the crew was able to locate a suspect and make an arrest.