FBI offers rewards to protect pilots from lasers
Updated: Wednesday, February 12 2014, 05:37 AM MST
By: Ruben Veloz, FBI
El PASO, Texas--The Federal Bureau of Investigation is offering rewards to anyone who can help them catch persons who point lasers at aircraft cockpits.
It’s called lasing and the number of incidents has soared dramatically over the last few years.
The FBI says the majority of the offenders are young men and the FAA wants it to stop before a disaster happens.
Laser pointers are seen as tiny from a close range, but when pointed miles away, the light gets bigger causing the laser light is described as equivalent of a camera flash going off in a pitch black car at night.
Captain Robert Hamilton, from the Airline Pilot Association International, has suffered flash blindness and a painful burning sensation in his eyes after being hit with a laser more than once while flying.
"It is a tremendous distraction, within the flight deck it is very real safety hazard and it bring the very real possibility of having an aircraft accident,” said Hamilton.
The lasers prevent pilots from seeing in the dark, including the controls.
The problem is so out of hand, the FBI is now offering a $10,000 reward to anyone who has tips that leads them to an arrest.
"There have been instances where other pilots have had to take the controls from the primary flying pilot so the plane could land or maneuver that area,” said Delta Airline Pilot Wolfgang Koch.
Since the FAA started tracking laser attacks, the number of lasing incidents has increased more than a thousand percent, since 2005.
Last year, there were 3,960 laser strikes reported against aircraft, and many more go unreported every year.
In one case in the borderland, the feds arrested Clinton Udet Pinkert in 2007 after pointing a laser at planes flying over his Clint home.
"They probably don't know the magnitude, or the effects of what's going on,” said Austin resident Charles Higgins.
Higgins told KFOX14 he's glad the FBI is taking extra steps to combat the issue.
"Lives are at stake and that's not right, you don't, you don't mess with people's lives,” said Higgins.
Since December 2013, the FAA said at least 35 pilots had to get medical treatment because of laser strikes.
The Federal Aviation Administration wants to encourage people to come forward if they see someone committing this crime, as it could have dangerous consequences for the pilots and their passengers.
"If I saw it I would report it even if I am not going to get the ten thousand, of course money doesn't really matter when it comes to people safety,” said El Paso resident Tarek Fares.
Pointing a laser at an aircraft cockpit is a felony and can land a person up to five years in jail, said the FBI.
If you witness this type of crime anywhere you are asked to call 911 immediately.