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Madison, WI (KROC-AM News) - A Rochester man is headed to federal prison for shining a laser at a commercial airliner.

A federal judge in Wisconsin has ordered 43-year-old Nicholas Link to serve two years in prison for violating federal laws prohibiting aiming a laser on an aircraft. He entered a guilty plea to the charge back in January.

According to the US Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, the pilots of a Delta Airlines flight from North Carolina to the Twin Cities reported that the cockpit of their Airbus A319 was illuminated three times by a blue laser while they were flying in an area west of River Falls, Wisconsin and an altitude of 9,000 feet on October 29, 2021.

Delta planes
Getty Images

The pilots reported that they had just been instructed to land at a different runway at the Twin Cities airport and were unable to look at their iPads to brief the new approach because of the laser hits. According to the news release concerning the incident, they were able to eventually transition to the new runway approach and safely land. The Captain of the flight reported that the vision in his right eye was affected for several hours.

A Minnesota State Patrol aircraft was called to investigate and was struck by a blue laser beam at an altitude of 3500 feet. The crew, using surveillance equipment on the aircraft, was able to locate the suspect and lead local authorities to the Rochester man. The criminal complaint indicated that police in the western Wisconsin community found him in possession of a blue laser.

Minnesota State Patrol photo
Minnesota State Patrol photo

The pilot on the Delta flight gave a statement to investigators that noted the "sheer brightness" of the laser beam. Federal prosecutors say he compared it to "suddenly turning on all the lights in a dark room." In his written report, the Captain stated that "one minor mistake during this critical phase could have led to catastrophic results."

The judge presiding over the case noted Link's extensive criminal record during his sentencing hearing, including a 2017 case that involved Link shining a strobe flashlight in the eyes of an arresting officer. The judge called aiming a laser at an aircraft "incredibly dangerous and reckless, and in this case, forced the Delta pilots to focus on their temporary blindness which put everyone on the aircraft in incredible danger."

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