Saturday, February 18, 2006

Two years probation for laser prank on US jet

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New Jersey man was sentenced to two years probation on Friday after he pleaded guilty to interfering with pilots of an aircraft by shining a hand-held laser into the cockpit of a private jet.

David Banach, 39, had originally blamed the prank on his 7-year-old daughter before pleading guilt to the charge of interference with pilots of a passenger aircraft -- a Patriot Act offense that carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Banach, a married father of three young daughters, aimed a green laser beam at a chartered Cessna jet carrying six passengers from Boca Raton, Fla., to New Jersey's Teterboro Airport on December 29, 2004.

The laser flashes distracted the pilot and co-pilot, causing a temporary loss of vision, according to prosecutors.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said he had not opposed the defense's request for a sentence that did not include prison time.

"At no time did we believe that Mr. Banach was involved in terrorism or that he should face a maximum penalty of 20 years in a federal prison," Christie said in a statement.

"Nonetheless, his conduct posed an immediate threat to innocent lives on an aircraft landing at Teterboro Airport."

Two days after the incident, the pilot of the plane joined law enforcement agents in a helicopter to identify the general location of the laser incident.

While circling the area, the helicopter was struck with a laser beam similar to the one in the first incident.

Agents turned a power spotlight onto the house where the laser beam emanated from and law enforcement officers on the ground moved in on Banach's house.

At first he blamed his daughter but after a lie detector test and further questioning, Banach admitted he had directed the laser at both the helicopter and the plane.


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