MASSENA - State police say a Massena man distracted the vision of a Cape Air pilot trying to land Wednesday night by shining an 18 million-candlepower spotlight into the cockpit.
The Cessna 402, carrying the pilot, a copilot and four passengers, landed safely. And the suspect, Michael D. Euto, 49, of 362 County Route 37, landed in the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility Thursday morning after being charged with six counts of second-degree reckless endangerment.
He was arraigned by Massena Town Justice Gerald P. Sharlow and sent to the county jail with bail set at $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond.
Euto told troopers he saw lights above the trees and fixed his spotlight on them but did not realize it was an airplane. He said he feels like a fool and is sorry for endangering the lives of the people on the plane.
Euto told troopers he was not initially aware he was shining his spotlight on a plane. He said he was inside his residence Wednesday night when his nephew, Kurtis Moore, said, What the hell is that.
Euto, in the statement he signed for police, said he looked out sliding glass doors on the corner of his house.
The thing was I didnt hear noise. You would think I would have heard noise. I just saw lights just barely above the trees. Without thinking, I grabbed the spot light and shined in on the lights. Then after shining the spotlight on the lights, my nephew shouted, Its a plane. I said, Oh ... and shut the light off, Euto told troopers.
He noted he had explained the danger of shining lasers into the cockpits of planes or cars to his son earlier that same day.
That is the Gods honest truth. It happened so quick I should have known. I feel like a ... fool for not only going against what I told my son, but endangering the lives of the people on the plane. I am sorry, he added in his statement.
Troopers said they received a complaint from Massena International Airport at 7:25 p.m. Wednesday about the incident. The pilot had reported a bright, bright light came into the cockpit when they were on their final approach and affected the vision of the pilot and co-pilot, state police Cpt. Michael J. Girard said.
While the vision of the pilot may have been affected, Craig Bentley, who serves as the senior vice president of operations for Cape Air, said the planes passengers were never in any serious danger.
They (the pilots) did not disorient at any time, which is great, but there was an opportunity for that, Mr. Bentley said, adding over the past several years there has been an increase in incidents like this.
Over the last couple of years there have been a number of incidents, more so though with laser pointers than spotlights, he said.
Mr. Bentley said since there has been an increase in incidents similar to this the Federal Aviation Administation now requires pilots to complete a report detailing what happened.
Its a mandatory report now, he said, adding once their pilots complete the report it is up to local law enforcement to handle as they see fit.
I think people dont understand the seriousness of what could happen, Mr. Bentley said. Were very concerned about the safety of our employees and patrons on the airplane. Whether it be with a spotlight, a laser pointer or through interference with a staff member, these incidents are something we take seriously.
Troopers canvassed the neighborhood near the aiport Wednesday night and returned to the area Thursday morning after receiving additional information about the location of the incident.
When we got to this gentlemans house, he soon became a suspect. He produced a light on a stand that has 18 million candlepower, Cpt. Girard said.
He said the gravity of the situation was magnified since the Cape Air planes flying into the Massena airport land using visual flight rules. They land without instrumentation. They virtually have to see to land the plane, he noted.
Mr. Bentley noted that pilots rely on reference points to orient themselves in relation to the ground and runway. We always rely on the instrumentation of the plane to back us up, he said.
Kurt E. Thomas, in a statement he signed for police, said he was piloting the Cessna 402 in for landing when the plane was lit up by a spotlight. The spotlight shining into the cockpit created an unsafe situation by effecting my night vision, he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration, who did not return calls seeking comment on Thursday, is also investigating the incident.
Benny Fairchild contributed to this report.