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Pilot hit with laser pointer while flying over St. George pinpoints suspect’s location

Aug 22, 2023

ST. GEORGE — A St. George pilot is warning of the dangers of shining laser pointers at aircraft after an incident Monday night.

Danny Smith was flying his single-engine Cessna over the Bloomington Hills area about 9:45 p.m. when he saw a bright green laser light shining at his plane from a residential neighborhood below.

Smith said he and his friend Lucas Loe, who was a passenger, pulled out their cellphones to call 911 and take video footage to document the incident as they continued to fly overhead. As shown in the video above, the laser is shining directly at the airplane multiple times.

The two men aboard the plane can be heard discussing street names as they fly overhead while asking St. George Police dispatchers to arrange to have officers meet them at the location later.

Smith said he also had been hit with a laser in a similar incident a few nights earlier.

"We tried to track it down, but they didn't shine it any further," Smith said. "So we figured, OK, well, we’ll look for another time."

Then, on Monday night, Smith said, he and Loe spent a few hours flying around the area, including over Mesquite, Nevada, and Colorado City, Arizona. During that time, he said they heard multiple mentions of lasers on the radio.

"We had heard different pilots on the radio saying, ‘We’re getting hit with a laser,’" said Smith, adding the radio traffic included reports from at least one SkyWest passenger jet.

"Then, as we were heading back to the airport about 9:45 p.m., we got hit with a laser," Smith said. "We turned and headed that direction because, OK, we got him."

Smith said he happened to be quite familiar with the particular neighborhood where the laser light was coming from, which helped him figure out the location, even in the dark.

"It was down the street from where I grew up," he said. "I own a property there in Bloomington as well, and it was pretty close to the property I own there."

After pinpointing the location, relaying that information to officers and finally landing at the airport, Smith and his friend met up with the police.

A man was questioned at the scene by officers, Smith said.

St. George Police Department spokesperson Tiffany Mitchell later confirmed that officers did locate a suspect and complete a report and that the case is being handed off to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"It has been forwarded on to the FAA for possible civil and criminal action," Mitchell told St. George News on Wednesday.

According to the FAA's website, deliberately aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine.

"The FAA works closely with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to pursue civil and criminal penalties against people who purposely aim a laser at an aircraft," the agency's website states. "The agency takes enforcement action against people who violate Federal Aviation Regulations by shining lasers at aircraft and can impose civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation."

According to the FAA, there were a record number of 9,723 laser strikes reported in the United States during 2021, up from the 6,852 reported to the agency the previous year.

"Laser strikes on aircraft remain a serious threat to aviation safety," the FAA website states. "Intentionally aiming lasers at aircrafts poses a safety threat to pilots and violates federal law. Many high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots flying aircraft that may be carrying hundreds of passengers."

Smith, known by the handle "Danny the Aviator" on Instagram and with nearly 70,000 followers, said that as a pilot, he considers the disorienting blinding flash to be the most concerning aspect.

"It looks like a bright flash," he said. "And then you can't see because your eyes are adjusted to the cockpit, which is very dimly lit with red lights. And that's why it's so dangerous.

"It usually takes a few seconds to get your eyes back in adjustment. And of course, by nature, when you see a flashing light, you look at it."

Smith said he thinks the person responsible was probably just goofing around and not trying to do anything malicious.

"Trying to hit the plane, that might be considered a challenge to him," he said.

"A lot of people who might shine lasers up at planes just do not understand how bad it really is," Smith added.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

Jeff Richards, a native of Salt Lake City with family roots in Panguitch, lived in Moab for 20 years before joining St. George News in 2017. Jeff is a longtime journalist and secondary school teacher. He and his wife Penny are the parents of five daughters. They also have three young grandsons. Jeff and his family enjoy swimming, camping, sightseeing, reading, and taking pictures.

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