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FBI investigating rise in lasers targeting commercial airplanes

This follows two incidents on Tuesday in which lasers were pointed at the cockpits of planes.

Image: laser image via Shutterstock

THE USE FEDERAL Bureau of Investigations says its antiterrorism unit is investigating lasers that have increasingly been targeting commercial airplanes arriving at New York City’s airports.

The incidents – which “can temporarily or permanently blind a pilot and crew” – have increased 17 percent since last year, according to the statement from the federal law enforcement agency.

The two latest incidents happened Tuesday. The first, at 7:35pm local time, involved a flight with regional carrier Shuttle America.

“The aircraft cockpit was illuminated by a green laser” as it approached La Guardia airport, while it was around six miles away, the FBI said.

The laser beam came from the Bronx, according to the crew.

Queens

In the second incident, three hours later, a private aircraft reported another green laser coming from Queens, around two miles southwest of La Guardia airport.

No one was injured in Tuesday’s incidents, but “several commercial pilots earlier this year suffered significant injury including a burnt retina,” the FBI said.

The agency “is asking anyone with information about any of these dangerous laser incidents to pick up the phone and call us,” George Venizelos, a top FBI official in New York said.

“Our paramount concern is the safety of aircraft passengers and crew.”

The statement said the agency is offering a reward of an unspecified amount for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Increase in incidents

According to the Federal Aviation Authority, laser incidents have been increasing for several years. Across the US, some 3,592 incidents were reported in 2011, up from 2,836 incidents the year before.

It is a crime in the United States to point a laser at an airplane — punishable with jail time and a fine up to $11,000.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is leading the investigation, comprises more than 50 local, state and federal agencies.

- © AFP 2013.

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