NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Two men are facing charges after being accused of aiming lasers at a Metro Nashville Police Department helicopter Wednesday night, temporarily blinding two pilots and a tactical flight officer on board.
Authorities said 19-year-old Hector Otoniel and 25-year-old Jamale Strong were each charged with three counts of felony aggravated assault in connection with two separate laser incidents on Wednesday, May 10.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), around 8:20 p.m. on Wednesday, a police helicopter was flying about 2,000 feet over Madison, assisting detectives, when something bright and green caught the crewmembers’ eyes.
“It does really blind you if you stare into it, but it lights up the whole cockpit,” said Tim Jacobs, owner of T&T Aviation.
About an hour later, officials said the MNPD helicopter was flying over East Nashville when another laser was pointed into the aircraft.
“Metro Police helicopters are usually flying low around the city, and the lower you are, the closer you are to the laser, the more intense it is, and it really does hurt your eyes if you’re trying to navigate at night,” Jacobs explained.
Jacobs has worked in aviation for the past decade. He said lasers have been aimed into his cockpit about a dozen times in his career.
“People don’t realize how common it really is, and also how dangerous it is,” Jacobs said.
In 2022, pilots reported 9,457 laser strikes to the FAA.
In addition, a total of 278 pilots have reported an injury from a laser strike since 2010.
“It’s almost like a strobe light in your eyes,” Jacobs described. “That’s more like what it is, because it’s usually waving around quite a bit, kind of fast.”
However, having a bird’s eye view helps pilots figure out the source of the laser, according to Jacobs.
“It’s pretty easy to report to air traffic control where somebody is. I mean, you can get it within one or two houses usually,” Jacobs said.
In both instances Wednesday night, the Metro Police helicopter’s camera system was able to identify the suspects, leading to their arrests.
Officials from the FAA — which fines up to $11,000 for shining lasers at aircrafts — told News 2 they are investigating the incidents involving Otoniel and Strong.