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Man free on bail in laser incidents

Federal prosecutors say he shined pointers at two aircraft

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

NEWARK, New Jersey (CNN) -- A New Jersey man was released on $100,000 bail Tuesday after federal authorities accused him of pointing a laser beam at two aircraft last week.

David Banach, 38, of Parsippany, surrendered Tuesday morning on charges of interfering with the operation of a mass transit vehicle and making false statements to federal agents.

Banach was released after a brief bail hearing Tuesday afternoon in a federal court in Newark.

He did not enter a plea during the hearing, but he is expected to plead not guilty to the charges, said his attorney, Gina Mendola Longarzo.

Prosecutors say Banach aimed laser pointers at aircraft in separate incidents on December 29 and December 31.

In the second case, the beam was spotted by a Port Authority helicopter investigating recent incidents involving aircraft being targeted by laser pointers.

State and federal authorities immediately found the source of the beam and questioned Banach. (Full story)

He told them he was pointing the green laser beam at stars with his 7-year-old daughter on the family's raised deck, Longarzo said.

According to the complaint, Banach initially said his daughter shined the handheld laser on the helicopter on December 31.

After other witnesses were questioned, Banach admitted that he was the one who shined the light on the helicopter, the complaint said.

Banach also initially denied any involvement in the earlier incident, in which a laser beam struck a small aircraft with 13 people aboard as it was landing at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, 12 miles west of midtown New York City.

He admitted his involvement in both incidents after a polygraph test and further questioning, according to an FBI affidavit.

Banach claimed to have bought the laser pointer in the past few weeks on, an Oregon-based Internet company.

Longarzo said her client purchased the laser pointer because he is a "gadget guy" who works as a fiber-optic cable tester.

A government official said last week that six commercial airliners had had their cockpits illuminated by laser beams during approaches at airports in recent days. (Full story)

The incidents happened "all over the place" and in "kind of odd places," the official said. The official would not provide specifics. None of the flights was affected as a result of the laser beams.

Law enforcement officials said the incidents appeared to be isolated.

A federal probe found no evidence to support concerns that terrorists might have been behind the incidents, the Department of Homeland Security's transportation security chief said Monday.

In November, the federal government warned police agencies that terrorist groups had expressed interest in using laser beams to try to down flights.

The bulletin said lasers were not a proven method of attacking aircraft but that they could lead to a crash.

"In certain circumstances, if laser weapons adversely affect the eyesight of both pilot and co-pilot during a non-instrument approach, there is a risk of airliner crash," the bulletin said.

It is against federal law to intentionally shine a laser beam at a commercial airline flight.

There have been several other incidents last year when laser beams were directed into plane cockpits.

One was on September 22 in which a Delta Air Lines pilot reported damage to his retina from a laser beam during a landing in Salt Lake City, Utah.

A report for the FAA in June 2004 examined the effect of laser beams on pilots.

Of 34 pilots who were exposed to lasers during simulated flights, 67 percent experienced adverse visual effects at even the lowest level of laser exposure.

Two high-exposure levels resulted in significantly greater performance difficulties, and nine aborted landings.

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