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Virgin flight returns to Heathrow after pilot dazzled by laser

PUBLISHED: 11:56 16 February 2016 | UPDATED: 11:56 16 February 2016

A New York bound flight from Heathrow was forced to return to the airport on 14 February so a paramedic could examine the co-pilot who was injured with a laser.

The aircraft was only minutes into its flight when the incident is said to have occurred, it continued on route towards New York but eventually decided to return after requesting permission from air traffic control.

In the audio between the Virgin pilot and air traffic control the pilot states that there was an incident with a laser after takeoff that took place six or seven miles outside of London.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic said the flight landed safely and the airline was now working with the authorities to identify the source of the laser. “The VS025 travelling from London Heathrow to New York JFK flight has returned to Heathrow as a precautionary measure due to a laser beam incident.”

Metropolitan police officers have stated they are working to determine where the laser was shone from and that no one had been arrested. In 2010, a law was passed in the UK to prevent ‘shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot’. If the distraction or dazzle is serious, a person may be found guilty of “reckless endangerment” and jailed under the legislation.

According to the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), a laser can result in temporary vision loss associated with flash blindness – a ‘visual interference that persists after the source of illumination has been removed’ – as well as an after-image, which is an ‘image left in the visual field after exposure to a bright light’, and glare.

Between 2009 and June 2015 there were roughly 9,000 laser incidents across the country reported to the CAA. Heathrow had the highest number of incidents involving lasers in the first six months of last year with 48, closely followed by Birmingham with 32.

A CAA spokesman has said “Shining a laser at an aircraft in flight could pose a serious safety risk and it is a criminal offence to do so. We strongly urge anyone who sees a laser being used at night in the vicinity of an airport to contact the police immediately.”

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