Mississippi Man Faces Prison Time For Targeting Aircraft With A Laser


A Mississippi man is facing federal charges related to months of instances of pointing a laser at aircraft inbound to Memphis (Tennessee) International Airport, just a few miles from the state line. The 52-year-old resident of Benton County, Mississippi, could be sentenced to up to five years in prison with fines of up to $25,000 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee.

The investigation began on July 15, when the FAA informed the FBI that airplanes inbound to Memphis International Airport were being targeted by green laser beams. According to an airport news release, 49 aircraft were targeted in the first seven months of the year, most of them operated by FedEx. The lights appeared to originate from the area of Hardeman County, Tennessee, and Benton County, Mississippi.

On Aug. 11, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation aircraft overflew Hardeman County with surveillance cameras and “almost immediately began reporting laser strikes originating from the south and southwest of their position,” according to the agency. With laser-like accuracy, the cameras “pinpointed an individual standing in front of a residence,” where they saw him pointing the laser at aircraft inbound to the airport. Agents dispatched on the ground observed the man as he pointed a laser at an incoming aircraft. They later found a green laser pointer in the front-yard trash can of the house.

The suspect admitted that he had been targeting airplanes for several months, and now faces prison time and a stiff fine.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. I hope that his trial gets tons of publicity across the country. Especially on the sentence he receives. Maybe that will give other people second thoughts on using a laser as a toy.

  2. If and when this person is brought before a judge for sentencing of his crime, he should be shown videos from the inside of aircraft when lased and any harm it does to a person’s vision. Showing how a powerful green laser scattering its light over the windscreen obscuring views and blinding pilots may demonstrate the hazards lasers are to many ignorant of its effect. Public news of this story with emphasis on the effects from a pilot’s point of view while flying should be shown too. This may discourage or reduce lasing incidents

    • Or, despite facing prison time, he may delight in that success. Some today will gasp for breath on a hospital bed to get just enough air to whisper to a close ear ‘don’t get the Covid vaccine’.
      One needs to want to yet even be capable of self-reflection to feel remorse, or to better understand themselves enough to demonstrate empathy or compassion. This is a process for all and everyone is on their own flight path.
      Always good to allow for hope, but keep an eye open to the limitless behavior of the human condition.

      • “One needs to want to yet even be capable of self-reflection to feel remorse, or to better understand themselves enough to demonstrate empathy or compassion. ”

        Right, ‘psychopath’.

    • Power is kind of irrelevant here. Any laser shined into the cockpit of a plane at night is a distraction at a critical time in the flight. Whether it causes temporary issues with the pilot’s eyes or simply distracts him, it is attempted interference with a flight crew, and therefore illegal and dangerous.

      My hope is that when he goes in front of a judge, he doesn’t just get probation and a slap-on-the-wrist fine. This nonsense needs a serious response from the law.

    • Key was a surveillance airplane responding to many reports in the area. Perhaps with stabilized camera – those things are powerful. And there are searchlights for night use.

      Large airports should have police helo ready to roll, for general security.

      (Maybe funny story:
      One day at Victoria International Airport (B.C.) a WestJet 737 went around, telling tower there was a person with a gun on the runway.

      Turned out that some idiot was photographing his son’s takeoff on a cross-country journey, using a camera with very long lens.

      Son had let him through security at the flying club to help him load and see him off.)

  3. Good. What do the people who do this think they are accomplishing for themselves? I have seen individual lasers several times, but recently I noticed what appeared to be random low powered lasers over the entire length of a major city. Then, someone suggested they might be those devices people shine on their houses during Christmas season.

  4. You would be astonished how many reports we in ATC actually receive in the Enroute environment. They all get reported and local authorities are contacted with rough estimates on location(s) provided by pilot and correlated by air traffic.

  5. Five years in prison? Lessee… 49 aircraft, average crew/pax of 4 equals 196 attempted murders. Add on 49 attempts to cause a crash. So far we’re at 245 life terms. To that add in whatever terrorism penalties would be considered aggravating factors. Is five years too low? I think so.

    If I were one of the 196 people he tried to kill, and the terrorist got five years, that would work out to a sentence of 9.3 days for trying to kill me. My life is worth more than that.