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Massena man charged with spotlighting Cape Air plane on final approach

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MASSENA — Police say a Massena man disturbed the vision of a Cape Air pilot trying to land Wednesday night by shining an 18 million-candlepower flashlight 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 St. Lawrence County jail, Canton, on six counts of second-degree reckless endangerment.

Troopers said they received a complaint from Massena International Airport at 7:25 p.m. Wednesday. “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 copilot,” state police Capt. Michael J. Girard said.

Troopers canvassed the neighborhood Wednesday night and returned Thursday morning after receiving additional information.

“When we got to this gentleman’s house, he soon became a suspect,” Capt. Girard said. “He produced a light on a stand that has 18 million candlepower.”

Mr. Euto was arraigned by Town Justice Gerald P. Sharlow, who set bail at $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond.

Mr. Euto told police 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.”

Kurt E. Thomas, in a statement to police, said he was piloting the Cessna in for landing when the plane was lit up by a spotlight. “The spotlight shining into the cockpit created an unsafe situation by affecting my night vision,” he said.

While the vision of the pilot may have been affected, the passengers were never in any danger, according to Craig Bentley, senior vice president of operations for Cape Air.

The pilot “did not get disoriented at any time, which is great, but there was an opportunity for that,” Mr. Bentley said, adding that over the past several years there has been an increase in such incidents, often involving laser pointers.

Mr. Bentley said the planes have instruments used for flying and landing, although 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.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires pilots to complete a report when such incidents occur, and it is then up to local law enforcement to respond “as they see fit,” Mr. Bentley said.

“I think people don’t understand the seriousness of what could happen,” he said. “We’re very concerned about the safety of our employees and patrons.”

Troopers said the FAA also is investigating the matter.

Johnson Newspapers writer Benny Fairchild contributed to this report.

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