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Old 14th Feb 2016, 22:54   #1 (permalink)
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Virgin Atlantic flight from London to NY returns after pilot hurt in laser incident

UPDATE: Virgin Atlantic VS25/VIR25B with pilot injured by lasr landed safely @ LHR. Declared 'Pan Pan' all the way.

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Old 15th Feb 2016, 00:28   #2 (permalink)
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Wow, that is very bad.
A l@ser capable of causing eye injury at a considerable distance is clearly a weapon. Are these higher power units not controlled as such in the UK?
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 01:09   #3 (permalink)
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Audio clip of the PAN call to Shannon giving estimated location of l@ser attack, states other pilot able to do PNF duties for the turnback to LHR:


FlightAware plot:

Virgin Atlantic (VS) #25 ? 14-Feb-2016 ? EGLL / LHR - KJFK ? FlightAware

They were cleared direct STU, jettisoned fuel and when queried in a later ATC exchange said that they had swapped PF and PNF duties due to the medical situation.

Last edited by Airbubba; 15th Feb 2016 at 01:53.
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 02:43   #4 (permalink)
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So the aircraft was at 8000 feet climbing out of Heathrow. The vision out the front of the cockpit will be limited towards the ground, so the l@ser has to be a good three miles or more away. So the pilot has been looking at a l@ser that was probably five miles away and with the beam width spread to several feet. The blink reflex should have prevented exposure for more than a few fractions of a second even looking directly into the beam.

An unsettling experience with dark adapted vision, but unlikely to cause any permanent damage. This is an hysterical overreaction considering that the aircraft was already out past the west coast of Eire before turning back. I'm sure the pilot that was blinded by the l@ser may have felt some discomfort and eye irritation, but dumping thousands of pounds worth of fuel into the environment and inconveniencing hundreds of passengers strikes me as gross incompetence on behalf of the flight crew. There were two pilots, one apparently unaffected, the other still capable of assisting within the cockpit, why not continue the flight to the destination.

This all smacks of someone trying to prove a point or with an axe to grind.

I speak as someone who has experienced high intensity l@ser light being shone directly into the eye. An unpleasant experience, but I regained relatively normal vision within about ten minutes and had a sore, bloodshot eye for a couple of days afterwards.

l@ser pointers and other devices for sale in the UK are supposed to be restricted to powers of less than 1mW, which is regarded as "eye safe" at any distance so long as you don't stare into the beam. Higher powered devices can be obtained over the internet from Far East suppliers or by repurposing common domestic items such as computer DVD drives. It is impossible to completely regulate such items. Customs and excise do regularly seize directly imported goods, but quite a lot get through the net.
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 03:14   #5 (permalink)

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Axe to grind or not,

The lunatics doing this need to be caught and made an example of in a very high profile manner with a lengthy sentence. The unaffected pilot may have been unsure of how long his fellow pilot was going to be temporarily blinded for and acted accordingly.

Not an easy decision to return and he has my respect
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 04:16   #6 (permalink)
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Goul: how can you possibly know the exact circumstances & what was happening in the cockpit?

I hope others don't condemn you as swiftly, harshly (& ignorantly) as you seem quite eager to do...

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Old 15th Feb 2016, 04:27   #7 (permalink)
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good command decision

And probably influenced by decisions from Ops control who dont want an aircraft stuck across the pond with only one pilot to fly it back.

I know nothing of l@ser exposure, but it is quite conceivable that after declaring such an incident, then CAA would see the medical as suspended until an official assessment has been completed....

Which may explain why the flight continued westward until a decision was mutually agreed upon.
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 04:30   #8 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by G0ULI View Post
I speak as someone who has experienced high intensity l@ser light being shone directly into the eye. An unpleasant experience, but I regained relatively normal vision within about ten minutes and had a sore, bloodshot eye for a couple of days afterwards.
You had this prior experience. The pilot probably didn't. How was he supposed to know his vision would likely recover during the remainder of the flight?

If his vision after the incident was not good enough to fly as PF, it would be kind if careless to continue over the pond.
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 05:44   #9 (permalink)
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Wow easy to criticize from your expert arm chair.

So the flight had 4 Pilots for a REASON. Now they only have 3, how legal would it have been to continue? Also what if was the Captain that had the incapacitation?

Some things are not black and white mate.

Pull ya head in.

The crew did exactly what they were trained to do.

Edit:----sorry I misunderstood the crew was made up of 4 Pilots. Even then if it was only 2 crew then that's even more reason to turn back....

Last edited by ACMS; 15th Feb 2016 at 09:07.
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 05:53   #10 (permalink)
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So the flight had 4 Pilots for a REASON.
Four pilots LHR-JFK?

I'm impressed...
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 05:56   #11 (permalink)
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Only likely to be two pilots on board as it's about 7.5 hours LHR to JFK
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 06:24   #12 (permalink)
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Evaluation of Injury

I am quite curious what symptoms the affected pilot was exhibiting. It can be pretty frightening if you have little knowledge of the eyes' reactions to l@ser exposure, or have not previously experienced it.

Do airlines carry on-board a copy of “Aviation l@ser Exposure Self-Assessment”, which is published by the CAA ( or similar in other jurisdictions)? The ALESA card is available in hard copy, and can also be downloaded from CAA’s website. If downloaded, the Amsler Grid on the first page should be printed so it is 10 x 10 cm, or 4 x 4 in.

When you look at the Amsler grid, it gives a very good indication of eye damage.
I know more than one who have copy in their flight bag. Perhaps they did the Amsler test before the decision to turn back .

Last edited by RF4; 15th Feb 2016 at 06:26. Reason: Typo
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 06:55   #13 (permalink)
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Gouli - not everyone's eyesight is the same even when checked by medial professionals. It's a known fact that l@sers can damage your eyesight on a permanent basis. You would do well to remember this incident -

BA pilot's eye damaged by 'military' l@ser shone into cockpit at Heathrow | World news | The Guardian
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 06:56   #14 (permalink)
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I'm interested in the nuts and bolts of G0ULI's analysis, mainly because I was wondering how someone on the ground could illuminate the interior of a cockpit at 8000 feet.

I'm not a pilot so not qualified to get into a conversation about the rights and wrongs of the crews actions (although as SLF will always be grateful for a cautious crew). Does the approximate distance and dispersion of the beam sound right - G0ULI - I'm not an expert in l@sers either so not criticizing, just interested.
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 07:03   #15 (permalink)
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One eye out = crew incapacitation = Immediate diversion. Flight ops manual is not unclear about this.

Virgin owes this guy. I'd have landed overweight at Shannon....
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 07:18   #16 (permalink)

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Originally Posted by Huck View Post
Virgin owes this guy. I'd have landed overweight at Shannon....
Then you'd be an idiot.

Divertion=reasonable response

Land overweight for a non-time critical event with reduced crew=prat
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 07:21   #17 (permalink)
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Gouli has obviously not looked into a military l@ser probably a legal l@ser pointer. This had to be a military l@ser for two reasons first the power involved for what would have to be a minimum of 3 miles range. second the stability needed to keep it focused on the cockpit for a sufficient time.

One thing I would highlight is that there is a natural tendency at night to look directly at a light of any sort that 'attracts your attention'. Not a good idea with a l@ser but difficult to avoid.
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 07:22   #18 (permalink)

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The following is from the main thread about l@ser attacks and is very interesting.

L@ser attacks on Aircraft


Not sure if this has been posted before. Stumbled across this whilst researching topic for a flight safety brief. Pretty sobering final para.

From laserpointersafety.com

UK: Medical report on commercial pilot injured by blue l@ser at 1300 feet
Jan 24 2016
The journal Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance has published a paper entitled “Blue l@ser Induced Retinal Injury in a Commercial Pilot at 1300 ft”. The case report is as follows:

“An airline pilot presented to our department complaining of a blind spot in the upper left area of his visual field in the right eye (right supero-nasal scotoma) following exposure to a l@ser beam while performing a landing maneuver of a commercial aircraft. At around 1300 ft (396 m), a blue l@ser beam from the ground directly entered his right eye, with immediate flash blindness and pain. Spectral domain ocular coherence tomography highlighted a localized area of photoreceptor disruption corresponding to a well demarcated area of hypofluorescence on fundus autofluorescence, representing a focal outer retinal l@ser injury. Fundus examination a fortnight later revealed a clinically identifiable lesion in the pilot’s right eye commensurate with a retinal-laser burn.”

The paper said the pilot’s symptoms “fully resolved 2 wk later” and that there was no “deficit in visual function.”

The l@ser exposure happened at a “busy international airport within the United Kingdom.” According to the authors, “To the best of our knowledge this is the first documented case report of a likely retinal l@ser injury to a pilot during flight from a l@ser on the ground.” They believe the blue l@ser had a “radiant power of several watts and potentially could have led to permanent loss of central vision in the pilot’s right eye had the fovea, the area of retina responsible for high acuity vision, been involved.”

The case was first publicly announced November 23 2015 by the general secretary of the British Air Line Pilot’s Association (BALPA). He said it occurred in the spring of 2015.

From Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance, Vol. 87, No. 1, January 2016. Full text available here for purchase. Gosling DB, O’Hagan JB, Quhill FM. Blue l@ser induced retinal injury in a commercial pilot at 1300 ft. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2016; 87(1):69–70.

Analysis from LaserPointerSafety.com

Summary - What was the l@ser’s power?

Based on the data provided, it would have taken an exceptionally strong l@ser to even have a 50/50 chance of causing an eye injury at 1300 ft. We calculate such a l@ser would be well over 5 watts and possibly 30 or more watts. This is a conservative estimate. It assumes the l@ser and eye were not moving fast relative to each other — unlikely for a handheld l@ser aimed at a moving aircraft. It also assumes a relatively tight beam, and that the l@ser-to-aircraft distance was 1300 ft when it may well have been longer.

As of 2015, the highest power handheld visible l@sers sold on the Internet are roughly 3 watts. Sometimes handheld l@sers are advertised with greater powers, such as 5 or 10 watts, but the claimed power may be grossly incorrect. For example, in 2014 LaserPointerSafety.com purchased a “5 watt” handheld l@ser that was actually about 50 milliwatts, or 1/100th of the claimed power.

We believe one of the following scenarios is what happened:
1) The injury was a very unlucky one; the pilot just happened to experience a statistically unlikely injury that could be caused by a relatively low 3-5 watt handheld consumer l@ser
2) A higher powered l@ser in the range 5 to 30+ watts was used, possibly not handheld (e.g., an AC-powered general purpose l@ser). If so, this may have been a deliberate attempt to cause damage.
3) The injury, or change to the retina, was less damaging (not as serious) compared to the injuries used to determine basic l@ser safety concepts such as the Maximum Permissible Exposure and the Nominal Ocular Hazard distance. The doctors were able to detect subtle retinal changes that, under previous MPE/NOHD studies, might not even be perceived as injuries or damage.

Detailed analysis

The report is not clear on whether the aircraft altitude was 1300 ft, or whether the l@ser-to-aircraft distance was calculated to be 1300 ft. If the former, there would be an additional horizontal distance so the l@ser could enter the cockpit window (e.g., it did not come 1300 ft straight up through the bottom of the aircraft).

For purposes of this discussion we will be conservative and say the l@ser-to-aircraft distance was 1300 ft.

One of the best-known consumer handheld blue l@sers is the Wicked l@sers S3 Arctic, introduced in 2010. It is called a “1-watt” l@ser but has an actual output around 750 milliwatts (3/4 watt). The Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance of this l@ser, with a 1 milliradian divergence, is 635 feet. This means that beyond 635 feet, there is a “vanishingly small” chance of l@ser exposure causing a minimally detectable change to the eye, under laboratory conditions when the eye and the l@ser are held in fixed positions relative to each other.

So a S3 Arctic could not have caused the injury at 1300 ft. This is more than twice the “safe” NOHD distance.

A more powerful l@ser with an output of 3.1 watts and 1 mrad divergence would have an NOHD of 1291 ft. It is possible that an exposure from a 3.1 watt l@ser could have caused an injury, when the eye and the l@ser are held in fixed positions relative to each other.

However, note that the NOHD has a built-in “reduction factor” or “safety factor”. This means that the chance of injury, if someone is at or just within the NOHD, is still very, very small.

At roughly 1/3 of the NOHD, the chance of injury increases to 50%. Specifically, at 0.316 times the NOHD, there is a 50/50 chance of a l@ser exposure causing a minimally detectable change to the eye, under laboratory conditions when the eye and l@ser are held in fixed positions relative to each other. So what we are looking for is the power of a l@ser that has an NOHD of 4108 ft. (This is because 1300 ft would be at the 0.316x “50/50” point.)

A l@ser with an output of 32 watts and 1 mrad divergence fits this. That means there is a 50/50 chance that a 32 watt/1 mrad l@ser exposure under laboratory conditions could have caused a minimally detectable injury to an eye that is 1300 ft. away.

If the divergence was less — a tighter beam — then the overall l@ser power could be lower as well. This is because a tighter beam will have greater power density at a distance than the same power spread out in a wider beam. Note however, that the higher the power output of a l@ser, the harder it is to make a tight beam. Adding a focusing lens on the front of the l@ser is not significant at long distances. So it is likely that a multi-watt relatively inexpensive consumer l@ser would have a beam of 1 milliradian divergence or wider.

At 8 watts and a tight 0.5 mrad divergence, there would be a 50/50 chance that a l@ser exposure under laboratory conditions could have caused a minimally detectable injury to an eye that is 1300 ft. away. Again, 8 watts at 0.5 mrad is exceptionally tight for a consumer l@ser.

Second analysis

LaserPointerSafety.com received a note from a l@ser safety expert who read the above.

This person wrote “Some of the more important factors are that the aircraft is obviously not stationary, and that the 1300 foot range (as a minimum) is still a very distant target. There is doubtless attenuation in the windscreen, so this even without considering the ED50, for this exposure to turn into a definite injury is highly improbable.”

The expert’s “best guess” was that the exposure was 2-3 orders of magnitude above the MPE “to hope to overcome the ameliorating factors (movement, windscreen, atmospheric effects, etc).” This means that the exposure was 100 to 1000 times above the Maximum Permissible Exposure. Recall that the MPE is the highest irradiance at which injury is unlikely. For a 1/4 second exposure that would be 2.54 milliwatts per square centimeter. So the expert’s best guess is that the actual irradiance, to cause the stated injury, would be around 254 to 2540 mW/cm².

Earlier we established that a l@ser with an output of 3.1 watts and 1 mrad divergence would have an NOHD of 1291. Another way of saying this is that a 3.1 watt, 1 mrad l@ser beam would be just at the Maximum Permissible Exposure, at the aircraft windscreen.

What this expert is now guessing is that the l@ser was 100 to 1000 times more powerful, or around 310 to 3100 watts. For a visible blue l@ser, this is exceptionally powerful. It would not be a consumer-type handheld l@ser.

If true — if a blue l@ser beam was able to cause the injury described in the paper — then it must have been a l@ser with special characteristics such as high power and tripod tracking, which is unlike almost all other reports of consumer l@ser misuse.
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 07:30   #19 (permalink)
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New "kid" on the block?

I seem to recall a recent thread about a pilot who had eye trouble for a couple of days after a l@ser incident. I think that also was in London.

In that thread, someone argued that due to beam divergence, dispersion and attenuation of the beam, the l@ser either had to be really powerful (several watts!) or it just couldn't have happened as described.

Is it possible there's someone out there who has a *REALLY* powerful l@ser (strong enough to cut through metal at short distances) who is targeting planes?

If so, that someone really needs to be apprehended and very publicly trialled - pay for all the damages and probably go to jail for a while. This also needs to be publicised (spelling?) quite well so others don't follow his example.

I still think it is still not perceived as dangerous by most of the population, they more likely go like "Gee, look how far this shines, I wonder if I can get a reflection off that aircraft over there". Unfortunately, planes are about the farthest object a city dweller can see without leaving home and has a chance to reflect something off of.

Quite possibly, that idiot got a new toy, really powerful, and was showing off to a mate, "look, I can make that aircraft over there light up"...

Edit: Tourist beat me to it - he found the post I was referring to. :-)

Last edited by RealUlli; 15th Feb 2016 at 07:31. Reason: Update with credit to Tourist
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Old 15th Feb 2016, 07:33   #20 (permalink)
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For all we/I know they may have been reduced to pseudo single pilots ops at the beginning of a longish sector heading into complex airspace/non-trivial airport.

The industry advice after an incident is to get medical attention/opinion after landing. That might mean grounding for further checks. If that had happened in JFK it gives Virgin crewing problems for the reciprocal sector.
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