Virgin Atlantic 787 Diverts After Pilot Injured By Laser

Filed Under: Virgin Atlantic

There has been an alarming increase in laser incidents involving commercial aircraft in recent years. Usually these incidents are reported to authorities but don’t cause diversions or major operational issues. Well, The Aviation Herald reports on a particularly noteworthy laser incident that took place earlier this week.

Virgin Atlantic captain injured by laser 

On Monday, March 15, 2021, Virgin Atlantic flight 453 was supposed to operate from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv. The Boeing 787-9 took off from runway 27L at Heathrow, and during climb out a laser was pointed at the aircraft, and it hit the captain.

The pilots reported the incident to ATC, which relayed the information to the police. The crew decided to continue the flight, since initially it appeared that the captain was okay.

However, while over Paris at 41,000 feet, the crew decided to return to London, as the captain reported that he could only see out of one eye, and became increasingly challenged. The pilots declared a “PAN,” and the flight ended up returning to Heathrow about 75 minutes after it took off.

Media reports suggest that the person who was behind the laser has been arrested.

Passengers were significantly delayed as a result of this incident, as the Virgin Atlantic flight to Tel Aviv only ended up operating the next day, about 12 hours later.

This has happened before on Virgin Atlantic

It’s interesting to note the similarities between this story and an incident that happened almost five years ago, also on a Virgin Atlantic flight. In 2016 a New York-bound Virgin Atlantic A340 declared an emergency over Ireland, after a pilot was injured by a laser shortly after takeoff. The plane also returned to London Heathrow.

What a jerk…

What is wrong with people? What would possess someone to point a laser at an aircraft during a critical phase of flight, putting the wellbeing of the pilots and passengers at risk? I don’t get the psychology — do they think it’s funny, are they actually trying to harm pilots and airplanes, or what?

Bottom line

A Virgin Atlantic 787 had to return to London Heathrow after a pilot lost vision in one eye due to a laser. The laser was pointed at the plane shortly after takeoff, and while the pilots initially made the decision to continue, the captain’s vision got worse as the flight continued.

Fortunately it sounds like authorities arrested the individual responsible for this, so hopefully that person spends some time behind bars.

  1. Lasers, drones, bird strikes, people running across active runways ( although rare but does happen ), quite a bit the crew has to watch out for that the passengers are oblivious about. Hope they nail the guy good.

  2. Lasers powerful enough like these should be banned for sale to consumers, there’s no feasible need for them other then annoying/harming others

  3. Acknowledging the stupidity of trying something like this, I’m shocked it could even work.

    Unless you’re in line with the runway with some altitude, how do you get a laser into the cockpit at an angle to hit a pilot In the eyes?

  4. @Reaper: “Unless you’re in line with the runway with some altitude, how do you get a laser into the cockpit at an angle to hit a pilot In the eyes?”

    This is a good question. But it’s not impossible: Pilots can see the ground, so a laser that’s in their line of sight to the ground can “see” the pilot.

    Even so, the chances of actually hitting the pilot in the eye is small, and any contact with the eye is likely to be brief. But I guess if the laser is powerful enough, even a brief laser illumination of the eye could be harmful.

    I really wonder what kind of sicko gets off on this kind of thing. But then again, how many shootings like the one in Atlanta happen on a daily basis?

  5. @Reaper: No only that but for how long was he able to keep the laser on the pilot’s eyes while the plane was at high speed and going up? Unless it is a laser that instantly blinds people you have to have the laser pointed directly to the eye for at least some time to really cause damage. People like this should be in jail for life. Hope the pilot does not have any permanent damage on his eye.

  6. I am wondering how this is even possible? If the plane is climbing say at 6 degrees how does somebody on the ground get a laser into the cockpit? They would need to be really high up.

  7. Many posters here do not realize how laser works or maybe haven’t seen one. Even a cheap consumer version of laser with few watts output has enough power to damage your eye temporarily from quite a distance.

    It just needs a straight line of sight to an object and ‘focus’ part on cheap consumer lasers is not very good so a laser pointed from couple miles out will have significant ‘spread’ – It will probably cover a circle of foot or more in diameter from that distance.

    Not that hard to shine on cockpit of a plane with very high chance of getting into the eyes of at least one (if not both) pilot(s).

    These incidents should be taken very seriously and should result in automatic jail time – not fines.

  8. Seems like multiple commenters have no idea what a laser hitting the cockpit looks like. Hint: it’s not a small bean. It’s a scattered and blindingly bright light. Google “laser cockpit” and watch a video to get a visual idea.

    The individual arrested needs to get punished severely for endangering hundreds of lives and potentially ruining the career of the pilots…

  9. People who do this should be charged with terrorism. Or whatever someone shooting a gun at a plane would be charged with (I assume terrorism, might be wrong though). Imagine if a laser blinded BOTH pilots…the potential consequences of this are disastrous and anyone who does it should absolutely face 20+ year sentences

  10. Just a little question?
    By the time he could return to London he could already fly to Tel Aviv

  11. I love all the people who get on their high horse on here. “jail jail… what are THEY going to dooooooooo?” Oh dear.

    I’m not buying this story. So out of all the flights departing LHR, this happened to VS TWICE? Both times they continued for about 30 mins, then turned back. BOTH times?…. ok. No one questions the odds of this. Hmm

  12. @jud fon

    Not so. LHR-PAR is about 40mins. LHR-TLV 4hrs 45mins.

    At that flight time, the crew would undoubtedly be working a “turnaround” or there and back, so he would not have been able to receive treatment for at least another 9-10hrs.

    40 mins back to base only option.

    However, I find some credence in @Jordan’s comment

    Anyone know if the VS A340 Pilot managed disability retirement?

  13. @Jordan

    What are the odds 2 Boeing 777s from the same airline go down in the same year? You got a conspiracy theory for that one too?

  14. @Jordan
    What a bullock… I flew a cessna 172 and around the same time, a commercial airline was reporting laser attack. It’s real problem jackass

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reminder: OMAAT comments are changing soon. Register here to save your space.