Man Accused of Aiming Laser at Coast Guard Helicopter Trying to Land at Massachusetts Hospital

MH-60 Jayhawk Helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts sits ready to respond
An MH-60 Jayhawk Helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts sits ready to respond June 12, 2015. (Ross Ruddell/U.S. Coast Guard)

A Boston man has been arrested for allegedly aiming a laser at a Coast Guard helicopter that was trying to land at Massachusetts General Hospital, according to the feds.

Philip Gagnon, 59, is accused of pointing the high-powered laser pointer at the military helicopter that was attempting to land during a training mission. The pilot ended up aborting the hospital landing because of the laser beam, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Gagnon has been arrested and federally indicted on one count of aiming a laser pointer at the Coast Guard helicopter on Sept. 21, 2023.

Coast Guard helicopter 6039 that evening was trying to land at Massachusetts General Hospital as part of a routine training mission with four crew members on board.

As the helicopter descended toward the hospital, Gagnon allegedly “aimed a high-powered green laser beam at the helicopter from inside his apartment,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

“The laser beam allegedly illuminated the side of the helicopter and shone through the helicopter’s windows,” the feds added. “In response, the pilot aborted the MGH landing and flew north for several miles, eventually landing at another Boston area hospital.”

Gagnon lives on the fourth floor of an apartment complex near MGH, and his apartment unit overlooks a flight path commonly used by helicopters landing at the hospital, the indictment reads.

Gagnon was released on conditions following an initial appearance in Boston federal court on Monday.

The charge of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft can lead to a sentence of up to 5 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.

Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and statutes that govern the determination of a sentence in a criminal case.

Last year, pilots reported 13,304 laser strikes to the FAA, as laser incidents continue to stay at high levels. The total of 13,304 reported laser strikes was a 41% spike from the 9,457 reported laser strikes in 2022.

“Laser strikes on aircraft remain a serious threat to aviation safety,” the FAA said in a statement posted with the data. “Intentionally aiming lasers at aircrafts poses a safety threat to pilots and violates federal law. Many high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots flying aircraft that may be carrying hundreds of passengers.

“The FAA works closely with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to pursue civil and criminal penalties against people who purposely aim a laser at an aircraft,” the FAA’s website reads.

The FAA issued $120,000 in fines for laser strikes in 2021.

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