Landing an aircraft isn’t an easy task by far and the last thing pilots need is a green light shining in their faces from a prankster down on the ground.
“Once it hits the windshield, it looks almost like a disco ball in there where the light goes everywhere, causes distraction, and possible impairment of the crew members that are inside the aircraft,” said APD Corporal Wuthipong Tantaksinanukij.
On Thursday, 25-year-old Gabriel Soza Ruedas Jr. made his first appearance at the federal courthouse in chains. His mug shot isn’t being released…but according to a “criminal complaint” the young man pointed a green laser pointer at an APD helicopter on February 15.
“Today he’s made his initial appearance before the United States magistrate here in our court and he’ll be coming back next week for a probable cause detention hearing,” said Ashley Hoff with the United States Attorney’s Office, Western District.
The “Criminal Complaint” says the APD pilot was on the way to Austin Bergstrom when the laser beam appeared…he had to turn his head away.
Court documents say the incident happened after the helicopter was cleared to land. So the pilot told Air Traffic Control that he’d figure out where the laser beam came from. Turns out, it came from the 6100 block of Larch Terrace near the airport.
With the help of the chopper pilot, APD units on the ground caught Ruedas with the laser pointer in his pocket and took him into custody.
Corporal Wuthipong Tantaksinanukij with the APD Air Support Unit says these so-called “laser strikes” are a growing problem both locally and nationally.
He says they see it at least once a month.
“Shield yourself with our hands or look away and maneuver the aircraft in such a manner that it’s…no longer pointing into the cockpit,” he said.
The corporal says when it’s not their aircraft being targeted, Air Traffic Control will often call them to respond.
He wouldn’t go into exactly how they trace the laser back to the source but he says it’s not that difficult.
“Wherever you’re shooting from, it pretty much pinpoints your location where it’s coming from. So it’s pretty obvious and we’re going to…look at those areas and get our officers in the area immediately to apprehend the suspects,” he said.
We were at the hearing today. Ruedas was polite to the judge, answered all of his questions and was concerned about a job he was supposed to start today.
APD says pointing lasers at aircraft is also against Texas law but the feds took this case.
So if convicted, Ruedas could face up to five years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine. See video here.