A flurry of green laser beams struck commercial planes as they flew over New Jersey Wednesday night, prompting an investigation and outcries about the danger of such strikes.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating the situation, reported that 34 planes were struck in the 43 incidents. About half of the strikes took place near Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), where from 10 to 11 p.m. five pilots informed air traffic controllers that lasers were pointed at their planes. The others strikes occurred from Robbinsville, near to Pennsylvania border, to Ocean City, in the southeastern corner of the state.
Three American planes, two from Jet Blue and one each from Delta, Republic and United, were struck. No injuries or accidents were reported from any of the strikes, although ABC News reported that one pilot had blurred vision.
Rich Frankel, special agent in charge of the Newark office of the FBI told ABC News, “This is an assault on a pilot as far as I’m concerned. It is a criminal matter. You’re putting the lives of not just the pilot but everyone on the plane at risk.”
The FBI, with the assistance of the Federal Air Marshal Service and the Air Line Pilots Association, previously issued a statement regarding the danger of laser strikes.
“When aimed at an aircraft from the ground, the powerful beam of light from a handheld laser can travel more than a mile and illuminate a cockpit, disorienting and temporarily blinding pilots,” the statement reads. “Those who have been subject to such attacks have described them as the equivalent of a camera flash going off in a pitch black car at night.”
Laser hits potentially can burn a pilot’s cornea and cause serious injury. In some cases, pilots have been hospitalized.
The number of nationwide laser hits on has risen from 2,200 incidents in 2010 to 3,894 in 2014 as handheld lasers have become more common and affordable.
Pointing a laser into a cockpit is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In January, the FBI announced a campaign to address the problem that included offering $10,000 for any information leading to the arrest of an individual who intentionally aims a laser at an aircraft.
In announcing the campaign, The FBI issued a press release that included commentary from George Johnson, a federal air marshal who serves as a liaison officer with the FBI on laser issues. “Laser pointers are legal and certainly have legitimate uses,” Johnson said. “Used in the wrong environment, however, they can be very dangerous.”