A New York-bound plane made an about turn back to England after a laser was beamed into the cockpit, harming the pilot's vision. A British pilots' union has warned that the incident reflected a growing problem.
The Virgin Atlantic Airline said in a statement on Monday that both pilots decided to return to Heathrow rather than making the transatlantic crossing.
A crew member told air traffic control there was a "medical issue with one of the pilots after a laser incident after take-off," according to flight radio recording.
The British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) emphasized that laser beams have become a growing problem, with 9,000 incidents reported to the UK Civil Aviation Authority between 2009 and 2015.
"This is not an isolated incident," said its general secretary Jim McAuslan. "Aircraft are attacked with lasers at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength."
"Shining a laser at an aircraft puts that aircraft, its crew and all the passengers on board at completely unnecessary risk. Modern lasers have the power to blind," he explained.
Balpa called on authorities to classify lasers as offensive weapons.
"Those who are endangering the lives of passengers must be brought to justice," demanded aviation analyst Howard Wheeldon.
Earlier this month, a man was arrested after a green laser was shone into the cockpits of passing planes in the southeast of England.
Police said no arrests have been made yet after the incident that turned back the Virgin Atlantic flight.
das/kms (AFP, AP)