A South Florida man was arrested for allegedly pointing laser beams at aircraft near Miami International Airport -- dangerous behavior that aviation officials say can impair pilots and cause a plane to crash.
The arrest came after the Miami-Dade Police Aviation Unit and other airline companies complained about a green laser being shot into the cockpit of inbound and outbound aircraft, an arrest affidavit stated.
Police set up an undercover operation in a Miami-Dade neighborhood, where aircraft can be seen just hundreds of feet in the air as they make their final approaches to MIA. Rolando Yague was out with his dog and an officer saw him flash the laser at an aircraft, the affidavit said. When officers moved in, Yague allegedly threw the laser through his gate into the driveway, but it still set off a bright beam.
“At night it's obvious. It can illuminate the entire cockpit, be extremely distracting even it doesn’t squarely hit the pilot in the eyes," said Jay Rollins, a retired captain of American Airlines. "Just that sort of distraction can be enough to create a crash."
During take-off and landing, with the aircraft slow and close to the ground, it's not the time for any distractions, especially one that can blind pilots.
“I don’t see a difference between what a person is doing with a laser pointed at an airplane cockpit any different from firing a rocket. It's the same outcome," Rollins said. “It kind of turns my stomach.”
Yague faces a charge of misuse of a laser lighting device. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, it's a federal crime and Yague, if convicted, can get five years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
“Of all things an airline pilot is doing, that’s probably the most critical when you're on a final approach down low to the ground," Rollins said. "You are looking for runway lights and the next thing you know you get socked with a green laser that takes out part of your vision — very dangerous. I can’t think of anything worse."