A man was jailed for two years on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to aiming a laser at an aircraft. During his sentencing hearing, Nicholas James Link, 43, of Rochester, Minnesota, claimed it wasn’t common knowledge that shining a laser at aircraft was dangerous.
The judge discredited Link’s defense argument and remarked on his ‘extensive’ criminal record, which includes numerous domestic assaults. Judge William M. Conley said Link’s conduct had put everyone on the Delta jet in “incredible danger.”
Link was tracked down by a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter and local law enforcement after the two pilots of the Delta-operated Airbus A319 from Raleigh-Durham to Minneapolis reported the ‘laser strike’ during their approach for landing at Minneapolis – Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) on October 29, 2021.
The aircraft was flying at a mere 9,000 feet, and air traffic control had just instructed the pilots to change their landing path to another runway when the flight deck was lit up by a bright blue light three times.
“The laser strikes caused a major distraction in the cockpit as they were not able to look at their iPads to brief the new approach,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement following Link’s sentencing.
The Captain, a veteran aviator who had been an airline pilot for 28 years at the time of the incident, suffered vision difficulties in his right eye for several hours after the incident.
In a statement provided to the court, the Captain said that following the laser strike, “one minor mistake during this critical phase could have led to catastrophic results.” He described the laser strike as “suddenly turning on all the lights in a dark room.”
The First Officer used his iPad to shield his eyes from the light, and his vision wasn’t affected, but at the time of the incident, he was meant to be using his iPad to brief the new approach.
Timothy M. O’Shea, the US Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, claimed Link’s actions “caused a severe safety threat to the safety of the crew and all passengers on board the aircraft.”
The Minnesota State Patrol helicopter was sent to the area where the pilots reported the laser strike coming from and was also hit by the blue light. The pilots managed, however, to direct local law enforcement to where Link was and he was detained by the River Falls Police Department who found a blue laser on him.
Link initially claimed that he had been shining the laser at an unmanned drone. The court heard that for the purposes of the law, unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are considered aircraft under federal law.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.