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West End man charged with aiming laser beam at helicopter trying to land at Mass. General

A man who lives on the fourth floor of a Martha Road apartment building was arrested today on charges he aimed a green laser pointer at a Coast Guard helicopter whose pilot was trying to land at the neighboring Massachusetts General Hospital last September.

Philip Gagnon, 58, was formally charged with aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, which carries a maximum possible penalty of five years in federal prison upon conviction.

At a hearing in US District Court, Gagnon was released on personal recognizance while his case proceeds, but on three conditions, including that he show proof he is continuing a methadone treatment program and that he is undergoing regular mental-health treatment. The third condition: "Not possess any laser pointer."

According to an indictment handed up by a federal grand jury on Thursday and unsealed today, Gagnon's apartment overlooks the path helicopter pilots commonly use to land at Mass. General. It describes what prosecutors say happened on the night of Sept. 21:

At approximately 8:00 p.m., as Coast Guard Helicopter 6039 approached MGH at an altitude of approximately 400 feet, the defendant pointed a high-powered green laser beam at the helicopter from inside his apartment. The laser beam illuminated the left side of the helicopter and, at times, shone through the helicopter's windows.

The pilot and the other crewmembers turned away from the laser, diverted the helicopter away from MGH, flew north for approximately three miles, and landed at another Boston-area hospital.

FAA listings and statistics on aircraft targeted with lasers

Innocent, etc.

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Comments

I don’t care about his issues/problems. Four service members performing a routine but still dangerous maneuver about 18 stories up beside a packed hospital with critical patients. He wouldn’t do it, but he needs the full sentence of five years.

It takes having a relative/loved one in the back of a helicopter or ambulance to know how wonderful these service is, no matter how much the Beacon Hill/ West End hates the noise.

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no matter how much the Beacon Hill/ West End hates the noise

I used to live in the West Fens, on the top floor of an apartment building, and I would get those low-level helicopters all the time. I knew what they were and where they were going and never minded it, although I did wonder if it would be possible for them to handle their departure (i.e., when there was no longer an emergency) in such a way as to make a little less noise. Going straight up for a bit rather than flying low over rooftops? But maybe that wasn't an option.

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I used to live next to BI. A few times a week a helicopter would land in the middle of the night and wake everyone up. But they dropped their patient off and left so I think the noise was overall less disruptive than had they waited a few hours and done it again.

Whatever the patient was going through is a lot worst than being awoken so it was hard to complain. I'd feel differently if the landings weren't for medical emergencies.

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Going straight up for a bit rather than flying low over rooftops? But maybe that wasn't an option.

Helicopter physics is a bit complex but the key part is that if you have an engine or transmission failure, you need a combination of altitude and/or forward airspeed in order to "glide" (technically, autorotate) to a survivable landing. I don't know the specific altitude at which you can do this at 0 airspeed, but I'd bet it's closer to 1000' than 0.

Even a little airspeed reduces the critical altitude significantly, so pilots want to get going as soon as their skids are off the ground. Since climbing is a high power operation, climbing straight up a couple hundred feet would put a lot of stress on the powertrain in the most dangerous flight regime, and nobody wants a 10-ton UH-60 dropping from the sky in the middle of a city, least of all onto a hospital.

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There are also defined airspaces for different types of traffic that can come into play.
For example helicopter traffic south of South Station area (including medflights approaching Tufts Medical) has some certain corridor mostly over the Expressway and Fort Point Channel, and at/under a certain altitude. I assume part of this (besides keeping away from taller downtown buildings) has to do with some of the airplane approach/departure patterns for Logan - some balance between vertical and horizontal clearance between aircraft (Yay! Pythagoras!)

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High volume airports, like Logan, are granted Class B "Bravo" airspace restrictions by the FAA. Helicopters transiting through the airspace must be given approval from Logan ATC for a specific routing through the airspace. There are names routes on a map, they tend to follow major highways when possible.

You can find the map on the FAA website, it is a 49MB PDF file: https://aeronav.faa.gov/visual/01-25-2024/PDFs/Boston_Heli.pdf

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Every time I learn more about helicopters I get a bit more amazed that we continue to use these things (despite their obvious advantages.) They're such ridiculous aircraft!

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Beacon Hill residents got grouchy about news helicopters hovering over the State House (beacuse, hey, viewers can't possibly understand the subtlety of a bill being debated by the legislature, without live aerial footage of the building), and about the frequent State Police helicopter presence when Mitt Romney was governor, but I've never heard any of my neighbors complain about the medical helicopters flying in and out of MGH. No doubt there are some cranks who have complained, but the prevailing attitude seems to be that, God forbid if you have a medical crisis, it's nice to be right up the street from a major teaching hospital.

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The medical helicopters come and go pretty quickly. I don't actually hear them even though I am about a half mile from the landing sight. I used to hear them when I lived at a higher elevation, but it was a pretty short disturbance. News helicopters are a big noise source.

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Hovering too close, disrupting conversations, causing headaches and then going away. Then coming back to annoy some more. Like mosquitoes.

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You forgot to mention, "and adding pretty much zero value to anybody's understanding of any issue."

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With the exception of showing debris fields from any type of traffic accidents be they automotive, aviation, or maritime incidents.

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I told you it wasn't me.

"Lasers"

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He'll be a piece of (expletive) forever at this point.

That's a boy's prank. Good on the authorities for tracking his dumb ass down. I hope the patient's family does the same.

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it was a training flight.

https://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/pr/boston-man-arrested-aiming-high-power...

as part of a routine training mission

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I bet he didn't know that.

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Yeah if this was a 19 year old, we could have a little grace here, maybe mandatory community service to drive home how integral these vehicles are.

But 58? Fuck this dude.

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Everybody remembers the admonition to not look at the Eclipse without Eclipse Glasses because of potential for permanent damage to the retina

A non-minimal power laser -- especially a Green one can do damage in much the same way as the concentrated power focused on the retina can be permanently damaging

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Dion Pelzer over for a visit ...

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When used as alleged in the indictment, It's a "laser blinding weapon," not a "laser pointer."

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We don't have to adopt loaded prosecutorial terms for items in common and ordinary use other than their commonly-used moniker.

What's next, calling a baseball bat a "bludgeoning club?" Shoes as "skull stompers?"

Doing so is a bit "Orwellian," read Politics and the English Language.

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What's next, calling a baseball bat a "bludgeoning club?"

If you leave your house carrying a baseball bat with no intention of playing baseball but with the intention of committing robberies, then what your are carrying is a weapon, not sporting equipment.

Context is a thing. This asshole used a weapon to try to blind the pilots of a rescue helicopter.

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Not what the government wants me to call them to inflame public opinion

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Also keeps a mitt in his trunk.

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