Combating laser strikes on helicopters and planes

Police choppers are the most frequent targets. They fly at night and criminals sometimes want to throw them off mission.
March 25, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
It may seem like child's play, but laser strikes on helicopters and planes are becoming one of the most common dangers to pilots, so the FBI and federal prosecutors are cracking down.

Pilots and prosecutors say the problem is getting worse, but they're taking action.

This green light can bring everything to a stop in a cockpit, and the little lasers are becoming a big problem for all types of aircraft.

"They're often targeted, especially the helicopters because they're closer to the ground which makes them easier targets, but no, we've had many reports of commercial aircrafts being lased as well," said federal prosecutor Karen Escobar.

Prosecutors say laser attacks are happening 11 times a day in the U.S. Police choppers are the most frequent targets. They fly at night and criminals sometimes want to throw them off mission.

So just imagine you're flying Eagle One, the Fresno County Sheriff's Office helicopter. It's a dark night and you're looking for a suspect on the ground when all of the sudden, a flash of light. It means blindness for the pilot for up to 5 seconds. He can't see anything on the ground and he can't make out his instruments inside the chopper.

Sheriff's Pilot Johnny Reyes says that can be the difference between catching a suspect or letting him escape. Even worse, it could blind him long enough that he crashes. And in a recent incident, he thought a more powerful weapon might be aimed his way.

"Even flying towards it, I remember that going through my mind, 'Am I just flying towards the barrel of a gun right now?" he said.

Reyes flew straight towards the light and helped police on the ground arrest its source. He says his night vision goggles helped filter the light beams.

Fresno Police pilot Ken Schneider says he's been attacked about a dozen times in three years as a pilot. He says they've arrested about 75% of the suspects, but none of them seem to have an explanation for what they've done.

"I can't tell you what they're thinking, but it's nothing less than a laser attack," Schneider said. "It's not a joke. It's not fun. It's a criminal offense."

A recent attack on Schneider earned Sergio Patric Rodriguez a 14-year prison sentence. It's believed to be the longest sentence in the world for a laser attack, and federal prosecutors are getting calls from Europe about the case.

The FBI is also offering up to $10,000 for tips to catch people using laser pointers against aircraft.


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