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Laser Pointers Pose Problem for Pilots

Updated: Monday, June 9 2014, 04:49 PM CDT
A campaign launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation is shining light on a serious issue involving laser pointers and planes.

The FBI says there has been a steep increase in laser strikes, when a person intentionally points a laser pointer at a flying aircraft.

It was above Lincoln, Illinois the first time pilot Andrew Hamm spotted it.

"[I] didn't really know what, you know, [it was.] We saw the wings kind of change color," Hamm said. "I thought it was just some light reflection from some of our own lighting in the airplane and then we got shined again and I looked towards the ground and then I saw that green flare."

It was the beam from a laser pointer shining right into the cockpit. Hamm says the tiny light is enough to create a massive distraction.

"Especially at critical stages of flight," Hamm said. "You'll get a bit of a lens flare or in some cases at night, because of the paint of the air craft, it actually creates this bioluminescence. Kind of like those undersea fish. So the airplane will actually start glowing a little bit."

Hamm landed safely that time and it's the only time he has encountered a laser pointer in the air.

But since the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration began tracking laser strikes in 2005 they have seen a more than 1,000% increase in the deliberate targeting of planes by people holding laser pointers.

"We are taking this very seriously," FBI media spokesperson Brad Ware said.

The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone who shines a laser pointer at a flying aircraft.

"It's a federal violation and anybody that's arrested will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Ware said.

Pilots who think they experience a laser strike should report it once they've landed safely.

"[But while a pilot is still in the air they should] aviate, navigate, communicate. Fly the plane. Know where you're at, where you're going and then talk with ATC as necessary," Hamm said.

The FBI first launched a campaign to stop laser strikes in February. Back then they were offering $3,000 and they saw a 19% decrease in that type of activity. The FBI is hoping the inflated reward will cut the number of laser strikes down further.

It doesn't appear any crashes have been caused solely by a laser strike but the FBI estimates that thousands of these strikes go unreported each year.

You can always call your FBI field office with any information and 911 in the case of an emergency. Laser Pointers Pose Problem for Pilots


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