Man accused of pointing laser at Seminole Co. police helicopter, temporarily blinding pilots


SEMINOLE COUNTY, FLA. - A Winter Park man is facing charges, accused of pointing a laser at a Seminole County Sheriff's helicopter eight times.

Deputies said Usman Tufail, 24, pointed the laser at them while they were chasing a burglary suspect. They said the chopper pilots had to halt their pursuit because they were blinded by the beam.

"Some of his statements were such that he wanted to see how far he could shine a laser -- if he could hit the helicopter," said Steve Farris, chief pilot for Seminole County Sheriff's Office.

WFTV found out the laser doesn't have to be pointed directly at pilots' eyes to blind them. All the laser has to do is hit any one of the eight windows on the chopper and the laser's beam will fill the entire cockpit.

"Airliners fly at 10-20 thousand feet, the beam gets wider as it gets higher so it can become like a very big flood light even though it's a small laser purchased on the Internet," Farris said.

The sheriff's office said the pilots were temporarily blinded as if they looked directly at a flash on a camera. It said the laser flashed through the cockpit eight times, while the chopper was 800 feet above the ground.

Tufail is facing multiple charges that include pointing a laser at a pilot, which is a felony.

The FAA and FBI are also investigating the incident along with two other laser-related arrests involving the Seminole County Sheriff's Office helicopter earlier this year.

Those agencies are involved because it is a federal offense to shine a laser pointer at an aircraft or into its flight path.

The law, passed earlier this year, requires prosecutors to prove a suspect knowingly targeted an aircraft.

Anyone convicted of the crime could be fined up to $11,000 for each count and get a 5-year prison term.