Plane forced to return to Heathrow after laser beam incident

Police are investigating reports that a laser was shone at an aircraft that was forced to return to Heathrow airport on Sunday night when one of the crew fell ill.

The Virgin Atlantic flight, which left London bound for New York shortly before 8pm, had to turn back soon after it passed over the west coast of Ireland, according to the flight tracking website Flight Radar.

Metropolitan police officers said they were working to determine where the laser was shone from and that no one had been arrested on Sunday evening.

There has been a surge in the number of reported laser attacks on aircraft in the UK in the last few years, according to Civil Aviation Authority figures. More than 1,300 incidents were reported in each of the four years from 2010 onwards, compared to only 20 in 2005.

Last year saw one of the most serious cases in the UK. A British Airways pilot’s eyesight was reportedly damaged when a “military-strength” laser was shone into the cockpit of his plane as it landed at Heathrow.

In a statement released on Sunday evening, Virgin Atlantic said the flight was turned around “as a precautionary measure due to a laser beam incident”.

It said: “Following this incident the first officer reported feeling unwell. The decision was taken by both pilots to return to Heathrow rather than continue the transatlantic crossing.

“The safety of our crew and customers is our top priority and we apologise for any inconvenience to those on board.”

The Metropolitan police said they were called at about 9.35pm with reports of the incident. Once the plane landed safely at Heathrow, the passengers were put up in a nearby hotel, Virgin said. They are due to fly out to the US again on Monday afternoon.

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