Virgin flight to New York had to return to Heathrow due to laser attack (6-7 miles west of airport)
Date added: February 15, 2016
A Virgin flight (VS025) heading to New York turned back to Heathrow after a laser beam was shone into the cockpit, Virgin Atlantic has said. The crew told air traffic control there was a “medical issue” with one of the pilots after the laser hit flight VS025 after take-off at 20:13 GMT on Sunday 14th. The flight turned back some way west of Ireland, after burning off and dumping excess fuel, in order to land safely. The radio clip of the conversation between air traffic control and the pilot indicated the laser attack may have happened some 6 – 7 miles west of Heathrow (the plane took off towards the east and turned west). The plane was landed safely, as the other pilot was not affected. [What happens if both pilots are affected ….] Shining lasers at planes is illegal. A new law introduced in 2010 means someone can be charged with “shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle the pilot”. Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan said lasers were “incredibly dangerous”, and called for the government to classify them as “offensive weapons”. Aircraft are attacked with lasers at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength. Between January 2009 and June 2015 more than 8,998 laser incidents across the country were reported to the UK CAA. In 2014, there were 1,440 incidents, with 168 at Heathrow, which has the highest number.
In a recording from the cockpit which was published online, a crew member is heard telling Irish air traffic that the incident took place six to seven miles west of Heathrow.
‘Pilot shot in the eye’
Virgin Atlantic said the flight returned to the west London airport as a “precautionary measure” after the co-pilot reported feeling unwell.
The airline apologised to passengers for any inconvenience caused, and said it was working with the authorities to identify the source of the laser.Image copyrightMax Earey
Passengers are due to board an alternative flight at 13:00 GMT on Monday, but some complained about the length of the delay.
Photographer Max Earey tweeted: “So the aircraft lands @10.30 pm but you can’t get me out again until 1pm tomorrow! REALLY @VirginAtlantic I’m losing a whole day of my trip.”
But Jessica Moore, who was travelling to New York for a holiday with her boyfriend, said she thought the pilots were right to turn around, and Virgin had treated them well.
“Many people on the plane were quite worried they weren’t telling us the whole truth, but I didn’t think that was the case,” she said.
“Obviously it is frustrating to lose a day of our holidays; I am travelling to New York with my boyfriend and we were supposed to stay there for five days.”
A new law introduced in 2010 means someone can be charged with “shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle the pilot”.
According to the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), a laser can result in temporary vision loss associated with flash blindness; a “visual interference that persists after the source of illumination has been removed”.
It can also cause an after-image – an “image left in the visual field after exposure to a bright light” – and glare in the cockpit.
Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan said lasers were “incredibly dangerous”, and called for the government to classify them as “offensive weapons”.
“This is not an isolated incident. Aircraft are attacked with lasers at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength,” he said. “Make lasers an offensive weapon. Modern lasers have the power to blind, and certainly to act as a huge distraction and to dazzle the pilots during critical phases of flight.”
Janet Alexander, a commercial airline pilot, described the experience as “very like a lightning strike in that it’s very instantaneous, very, very bright light, which is dazzling basically”.
“And of course if it’s targeted in exactly the wrong way you could permanently damage someone’s sight.”
Laser terror at 10,000ft on board Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow
By JUSTIN DAVENPORT, BENEDICT MOORE-BRIDGER (Standard)
A Virgin Atlantic flight to New York was forced to turn back to Heathrow after a laser was shone into the cockpit while it flew at 8,000ft.
The pilot declared a medical emergency about an hour into the flight when his co-pilot was taken ill. Scotland Yard was today hunting the source of the attack, which took place a few miles west of Heathrow last night.
Virgin Atlantic said the plane returned to the airport as a “precautionary measure” and the airline was helping police try to identify the suspect.
A Virgin spokeswoman said the safety of the crew and customers who had been on board Flight VS025 travelling to JFK airport had been a “top priority.”
“So it is very, very dangerous indeed — but unfortunately there’s a game that some so-called aircraft spotters play called laser tagging, where they try and shine their beam onto the fuselage of the aircraft.”
He said the Airbus A340 was climbing after take-off and was at about 8,000ft about “six or seven miles” west of Heathrow, when the incident took place.
The flight path shows it was following the M3 corridor in Surrey and the attack may have taken place somewhere between Weybridge and Sandhurst.
The crew reported it at the time. In an audio recording the pilot declares a “Pan-Pan” emergency, saying they have a “medical issue” and are returning to Heathrow. “Pan-Pan” indicates an urgent situation in which there is no immediate threat to life — as distinct from a “Mayday” call.
It is understood that the plane had passed over the west coast of Ireland before heading back to Heathrow.
Bethany McHutchinson, one of 252 passengers on board, told Sky News: “It was really scary. Whether by accident or on purpose, if it had been really serious it could have put everyone on the plane in danger.
“It’s just nice to know that we’re safe now and back on the ground. It’s very scary, when you’re up in the air and you hear stuff like that.”
There has been a surge in reported laser attacks on aircraft in the UK in the last few years.
The Civil Aviation Authority recorded more than 1,300 incidents in each of the four years from 2010, compared with only 20 in 2005. More were reported at Heathrow than at any other UK airport .
Last year saw one of the most serious cases, when a British Airways pilot’s eyesight was reportedly damaged when a “military-strength” laser was shone into the cockpit as he landed at Heathrow.
Pilots’ union Balpa has said “more needs to be done” to tackle the problem. The union said a laser can result in temporary vision loss associated with flash blindness — a “visual interference that persists after the source of illumination has been removed”. It can also cause an “after-image” and glare that distracts a pilot.
Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan said: “This is not an isolated incident. Aircraft are attacked with lasers at an alarming rate, and with lasers with ever-increasing strength.
“It is an incredibly dangerous thing to do. Shining a laser at an aircraft puts that aircraft, its crew and all the passengers on board at a completely unnecessary risk.
“Modern lasers have the power to blind, and certainly to act as a huge distraction and to dazzle the pilots during critical phases of flight.”
Between 2009 and June last year more than 8,998 laser incidents across the country were reported to the UK Civil Aviation Authority.
A CAA spokesman said: “Shining a laser at an aircraft in flight could pose a serious safety risk and it is a criminal offence to do so.
“We strongly urge anyone who sees a laser being used at night in the vicinity of an airport to contact the police immediately.”
A Metropolitan police spokesman said: “Police were contacted at approximately 9.35pm last night following reports of a laser shone in the direction of a commercial flight that had taken off from Heathrow Airport.
“Inquiries continue to establish where the offence took place.”
Laser pen plane attack rise warning by police air service chief
It is only a matter of time before someone dies as a result of attacks with laser pens, the head of safety for the National Police Air Service warns.
David Taylor, from Llandudno, says laser attacks on planes and helicopters in England and Wales have almost doubled in five year.
There were 746 incidents in 2009 and 1,442 last year.
NPAS now operate most of the UK’s police helicopters, including those serving north and south Wales.
At the same time as the rise in attacks, the severity of the incidents has also increased as ever more powerful lasers become available.
Several pilots have suffered damage to their sight which may prove irreversible.
Mr Taylor represents NPAS on the multi-agency UK government’s laser working group, which is pushing for stronger legislation around the purchase and use of laser devices.
It wants to bring Britain in line with countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the USA where laser attacks are federal offences and attract stiff penalties.
“Fifteen years ago laser pens were 1 milliwatt – roughly the power you’d need for a pointer in a classroom – but today it’s extremely easy to pick up lasers on the internet of 5 to 7 watts; over five thousand times stronger, and easily enough to burn your name into a wall at close range,” he said.
“Aside from a handful of highly specialised uses, there’s absolutely no legitimate reason anyone could have for wanting such a powerful laser.
Laser pen attacks
England and Wales
1,142 attacks on aircraft in the last year
746 incidents reported in 2009
97 attacks made on NPAS helicopters in 2014
2-4 attacks per year (average) on Dyfed-Powys police helicopter
NPAS are currently trialling protective goggles for pilots, however Mr Taylor wants attacks to be prevented in the first place.
“Much better would be to mount a massive public-awareness campaign to make people realise that these things can be every bit as dangerous as knives, and to make their use as antisocial as smoking or drink-driving,” he said.
“It’s not just pilots, train drivers and motorists are being targeted, and given that, if we don’t tackle this now it really is a matter of time until someone dies.”
Police helicopters attacked
NPAS National Police Air Service helicopters were attacked 97 times in 2014, and whilst specifically Welsh figures have only just begun to be collated this year, Mr Taylor believes they will be “in high single figures or low tens” for both the north and south Wales areas – which includes the Gwent Police area.
The Dyfed-Powys force said their helicopter is subjected to an average of two to four attacks per year.
However, Mr Taylor warned that these numbers are likely to be the tip of the iceberg, as many attacks go unreported.