FBI cracking down on lasers shined at aircrafts

Federal authorities are cracking down on people who point lasers at airplanes.
February 11, 2014 7:51:54 PM PST
Federal authorities are cracking down on people who point lasers at airplanes. It's a dangerous problem that is happening more often. Officials say, across the country, pilots landing their aircraft encounter laser pointers more than 10 times every day.

The dramatic increase in the number of pilots temporarily blinded by lasers has grabbed the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

To curb the crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is offering a cash reward for anyone who turns in an offender. The agency is also launching a campaign to try and educate the people who are most likely to do it.

"This is very serious and the FBI is treating it as such," said FBI violent crime agent John Kitzinger.

It's a two part plan. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest of someone who points a laser at a plane. And, the bureau is launching an educational campaign aimed at young males, the most common offenders.

The numbers are on the rise. Mineta San Jose International Airport saw 63 laser incidents last year. That's up from 33 in 2012. At Oakland International Airport, laser strikes rose from 22 to 43. And San Francisco International Airport went from 33 to 38.

Across the country: there were 3,400 strikes in 2012 and 3,900; an all-time high.

The inexpensive, pen sized laser pointers can light up the cockpit and possibly blind the pilots.

The Federal Aviation Administration says there have been at least 35 incidents where pilots required medical attention after a laser strike. In one example, a pilot suffered two burned corneas.

Captain Robert Hamilton chairs the Security Council of the Air Line Pilots Association. He's been hit by lasers five times.

"It was shocking intensity. The beam tracked my aircraft for almost 45 seconds. I found myself temporarily blinded," said Hamilton.

The FBI says it's also a matter of public safety.

"[People] need to know that it's stupid. It's a very serious act. It is a criminal act. It can bring an aircraft down," said Retired American airlines pilot Chris Zwingle.

"It's not just a danger to the pilots as well as to the passengers, but to the people on the ground," said Kitzinger.

The top three airports that experienced the most laser strikes last year are Portland, Houston and Phoenix. All had more than 100 incidents.


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