Man Faces Federal Charges in Laser Attack on Sheriff’s Dept. Helicopter

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A 31-year-old Boyle Heights man was scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday to face allegations that he pointed a laser at a Sheriff’s Department helicopter while it was on patrol last November.

laser strike on aircraft

A simulation of a laser strike on a pilot. (Credit: FBI)

George Sam Elali was named in a grand jury indictment filed Feb. 14, according to a news release from the FBI, which last month began a campaign to crack down on laser attacks.

Elali was set to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles. He was charged with one count of aiming the beam of a laser at an aircraft, a felony offense that carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison.

Elali allegedly pointed a green laser at deputies flying on patrol in a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopter on Nov. 17, 2013. Deputies tracked the laser’s source to a backyard in L.A., where police on the ground took Elali into custody on state charges that were later dropped, according to the FBI.

Reports of laser attacks, which can temporarily blind pilots and endanger aircraft crew and people on the ground, have increased “dramatically” in recent years, and California leads the nation in such attacks, according to the FBI. Nearly 4,000 attacks were reported across the U.S. last year, according to FAA statistics cited by the FBI.

Last month, the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration and several local law enforcement agencies announced the availability of a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone suspected of a laser attack.

Pilots can be distracted or have their vision impaired by laser attacks, which can turn the entire cockpit bright green. Some pilots have said they were forced to abort landings or hand over controls after a laser attack, according to the FBI.