5 pilots report encounters with lasers over NY, New Jersey

AP News
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Posted: May 29, 2015 5:59 PM

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — Local and federal law enforcement officials launched an investigation Friday after five commercial airline pilots reported that green lasers were pointed at their planes as they flew over New York and New Jersey.

The Federal Aviation Administration said four pilots reported a green laser illuminating their aircraft in flight at about 8,000 feet over Long Island between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Thursday. The pilots were flying American Airlines, Shuttle America and Delta planes.

Another report involved a green laser beamed at a Sun Country Airlines plane at 11:30 p.m., about 14 miles southwest of John F. Kennedy International Airport, the FAA said.

No injuries were reported in any of the incidents. Representatives for Delta and American Airlines said their flights landed safely and the pilots continued on their trips after reporting the laser episodes to air traffic controllers.

Sen. Charles Schumer told The Associated Press that investigators believe one person was responsible for the incidents over Long Island and that the person may have been in a park. It is a federal crime to point a laser at a plane, and Schumer said perpetrators sometimes station themselves in parks to avoid detection.

The Democrat from New York said Nassau County police, the FBI and the area's Joint Terrorism Task Force launched a joint investigation, but there appears to be no indication the episode was terrorism-related.

Nassau County Police Inspector Gary Shapiro confirmed that detectives were investigating, but he wouldn't provide further details. An FBI spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the FAA also was investigating a commercial flight's close encounter with a drone near LaGuardia Airport. Shuttle America Flight 2708 was on its final approach to the airport around 11 a.m. Friday when it climbed 200 feet to avoid the drone, which was flying near Prospect Park in Brooklyn, at an altitude of about 2,700 feet.

Green lasers appear "almost like a flashbulb" in the cockpit, said Michael Canders, a retired military pilot and aviation professor at Farmingdale State College, on Long Island.

"It blinds the pilot, which can obviously interfere with control of the aircraft," he said.

Canders said he's warned his students to be ready to react if their planes are hit by lasers and not to overreact.

Schumer, who was briefed on Thursday's laser incident by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, said incidents of planes being hit by lasers have been rising, with nearly 3,900 reported across the country last year. Schumer is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to ban "high-powered, long-range green lasers," which he says are brighter than other lasers and easily penetrate glass.

"We must do something soon and not wait until there's a huge accident," he said.

The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Schumer, who said he isn't satisfied with the FDA's response to a letter he sent about lasers, noted that Congress also could ban them.

For now, Canders said, pilots have been advised to report incidents immediately to the FAA and give their location so investigators can attempt to locate the person pointing the laser. He said that while most incidents have involved commercial airlines — usually with more than one person in the cockpit — the situation could be more dangerous in single-pilot planes.

"I worry about the idea of them being incapacitated," he said. "It could have potentially catastrophic results."