Fairfax Co. police chopper pilot describes midair laser attack

A Lorton, Virginia, man has been arrested for allegedly pointing a laser at a Fairfax County police helicopter last week.

Cameron Van Vleet, 25, was charged with interfering with the operation of an aircraft, a misdemeanor that can potentially carry a one-year prison sentence, according to Virginia law.

“We were able to put our thermal camera on the subject and see him actually pointing the laser at us,” said Andrew Edgerton, the pilot of the police helicopter.

The helicopter was flying above Lorton late Friday night as police in Fairfax County searched for a man who ran away from Virginia State Police troopers.

Video from the chopper shows the green laser shining in.


“Even the little lasers can have a dramatic effect on the aircrew,” Edgerton said. “When it hits the windshield of the aircraft, it spreads, and it becomes very distracting and, in some cases, can be incapacitating.”

After Edgerton’s crew identified where the laser was coming from, detectives on the ground went to Van Vleet’s apartment and took him into custody.

“I was able to maneuver the nose of the helicopter to effectively block the laser from entering the cockpit,” Edgerton said. “Hopefully the public can learn of the dangers that lasing an aircraft can cause.”

This sort of thing has happened before. In fact, “it happens more frequently than you think,” according to Edgerton.

However, the person responsible is often never caught.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, airplane pilots around the country reported 9,500 laser strikes in 2022.

278 pilots have reported an injury from a laser strike to the FAA since 2010.

“Lasers may seem like just a toy, office tool, or game for most, but they can incapacitate pilots, putting thousands of passengers at risk every year,” said Billy Nolen, the acting FAA administrator.

Nolen has requested that laser manufacturers add a warning label to their packaging to make consumers aware of the safety risks.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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