Laser forces NY-bound plane to turn around

LONDON • A New York-bound flight turned back shortly after taking off from Britain's Heathrow Airport, when a laser light was shone towards it and caused one of the crew to report that he had been dazzled and become unwell.

The Virgin Atlantic Airbus A-340, bound for New York's JFK airport, left London shortly before 8pm on Sunday. But it turned back soon after it passed over the west coast of Ireland, according to the flight tracking website Flight Radar.

A crew member on board Virgin Flight VS025 told air traffic control there was a "medical issue with one of the pilots after a laser incident after take-off", according to the flight radio recording.

London's Telegraph newspaper said the pilot used the code "pan, pan, pan" to alert air traffic control to an onboard emergency that does not pose a threat to life.

With this code, the air traffic controller confirms the route and then asks for more details of the incident.

"It was around about six or seven miles (9.5km or 11km) west of London," said the pilot.

A spokesman for Virgin Atlantic told the Telegraph that the flight landed safely and the airline was now working with the authorities to identify the source of the laser.

The BBC said there were 252 passengers and 15 crew on board.

London's Metropolitan Police tweeted: "Aircraft forced to return to Heathrow after being hit by a laser strike."

There has been a surge in the number of reported laser attacks on aircraft in Britain in the last few years, according to Civil Aviation Authority figures. More than 1,300 incidents were reported in each of the four years from 2010 onwards, compared to only 20 in 2005.

A law introduced in 2010 carries a fine of up to £2,000 (S$4,060) for people charged with "shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle the pilot".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline 'Laser forces NY-bound plane to turn around'. Print Edition | Subscribe