Sarasota-Bradenton officials told The Washington Post that around 8 p.m., reports came of a man shining a laser into the cockpits of Cessna Skyhawk planes practicing takeoffs and landings. One of the pilots said the laser hit him directly in the eyes, blinding him temporarily and blurring his vision after the incident, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Shortly after, a United Airbus A320 pilot reported a laser being shined into the cockpit around 9 p.m.
The airport tower then radioed the police, and the MCSO dispatched a helicopter to a warehouse yard near the airport. The man was discovered nearly a quarter mile from the approach of the runway, according to airport officials.
According to the police report, when the MCSO Aviation unit arrived at the scene to locate the man, he also shined the laser at the helicopter pilots. He was found on a forklift at a nearby business, and deputies moved in to surround and apprehend him. When the police found him, they said, he grabbed a hammer and made threatening motions at the officers. Police used a Taser to subdue him and found the laser pointer in his pants pocket.
After he was cleared at a local medical center, Chapman was taken to the Manatee County Jail and charged with aggravated assault on an officer, pointing a laser at pilot with and without injury, and resisting arrest without violence.
Authorities later learned that he used the laser pointer on four fixed-wing planes and one time at the MCSO helicopter, according to the sheriff’s office. In the United States, it is against federal and state law to aim a laser at an aircraft because the safety risks include incapacitating pilots.
In the United Kingdom, laws have been introduced in recent years to crack down on increased incidents of people shining lasers into planes, imposing stiff fines and up to a five-year jail sentence to reduce the likelihood of “fatal consequences,” according to the Independent.
In a YouTube video of the incident posted by the MCSO, a man can be seen standing among a pile of bricks shining the laser at the camera of the helicopter and later throwing rocks in an attempt to hit the vehicle.
When reached for comment, United said it had not filed any internal reports on the incident.
None of the pilots reported injuries, and on the Facebook post, one of the commenters explained why the incident could have been much worse: “This is so scary! My husband is a pilot, lasers can cause temporary blindness which can have devastating consequences. This man was intentionally trying to cause a plane crash, absolutely horrendous,” she wrote.