A judge has warned of the potentially devastating dangers posed to both people and property by disrupting pilots carrying out their duties.
Judge Gordon Kerr QC issued the warning after he jailed a Co Antrim man for six months for shining a laser at police helicopter around five times.
Belfast Crown Court heard the actions of Alan Armstrong (35) caused the cockpit of the helicopter to be illuminated, which in turn rendered the pilot unable to see the aircraft instruments.
Sending Armstrong to jail, Judge Kerr said any such actions which could have resulted in a pilot crashing in a heavily populated area were serious and warranted a prison sentence.
Armstrong, a father of three from Kinbayne Avenue in Greenisland, admitted a charge of endangering the safety of an aircraft on September 19 last year. He later said he shone the green laser at the helicopter as it was flying over his house and annoying him.
Outlining the Crown case against Armstrong, prosecutor Simon Jenkins said the PSNI helicopter was dispatched on the evening in question to the Carrickfergus area in response to a stolen vehicle.
The pilot - with over 3,000 hours flying experience - was in the aircraft along with two police officers.
Mr Jenkins said that around 10pm, whilst flying at around 2,500 feet, a green laser was shone directly at the aircraft which “illuminated the cabin, and caused the pilot to take an evasive manoeuvre in order to minimise the laser distraction.”
The pilot alerted air traffic to the incident, as a civilian aircraft was due to pass by overhead.
One of the officers onboard the helicopter contacted another officer on the ground, and the location the laser was being shone from was identified as Armstrong’s address.
Mr Jenkins told the court Armstrong “deliberately shone a green laser directly towards the helicopter on at least five occasions, and on one of those occasions the laser was continuously aimed at the helicopter for around 30 seconds.”
When Armstrong was arrested, officers searched his home and found a laser pointer. The Co Antrim man later admitted he had shone the laser at the helicopter and accepted his actions were “the height of stupidity.”
Defence barrister Richard McConkey, instructed by Reavey Solicitors, told Judge Kerr that Armstrong shone the laser at the aircraft because “the helicopter was annoying him as it was flying over his house.”
Acknowleging that this was “no excuse at all” for his client’s actions, Mr McConkey said Armstrong was not trying to injure or harm anyone and was remorseful for what he had done.