Police investigate laser targeting aircraft near S.L. airport

By Morgan Jacobsen, Deseret News

Published: Mon, Aug. 18, 2014, 7:05 p.m. MDT

 Police are investigating reports of a laser being pointed into the cockpits of three aircraft approaching Salt Lake City International Airport on Sunday.

Police are investigating reports of a laser being pointed into the cockpits of three aircraft approaching Salt Lake City International Airport on Sunday.

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Police are investigating reports of a laser being pointed into the cockpits of three aircraft approaching the Salt Lake City International Airport on Sunday.

Between 8 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., three pilots reported a green laser being pointed into the cockpits while the planes were landing. The SkyWest planes, each carrying between 20 and 50 passengers, landed without incident, according to airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann.

Each pilot reported the laser coming from an area about 6 miles south of the airport.

"It's a federal offense, and there are severe consequences if somebody is discovered doing it because of the danger it can cause to the pilot," Gann said. "Not only will it disorient a pilot, but it can also damage their eyesight and interfere with them operating an aircraft."

Dave Haymond, president of the Utah General Aviation Association, said pointing a laser at an aircraft is not a harmless prank, contrary to what many may think.

"I think probably there's a lot of people that really don't understand how serious this can be," Haymond said. "If you're in a commercial airliner and there's 250 people on board, and your pilot is disabled visually, you're putting not only all the people in the airplane at risk, but people on the ground as well."

Haymond recalled being targeted by a laser while flying a private plane with four people on board into an airstrip near Sandy. It was nighttime, and the laser came into the cockpit several times over the course of about 10 seconds, he said.

"When the laser came into the cockpit, I realized immediately what it was, and specifically didn't look at it," Haymond said. "In fact, (I) shielded my eyes with my hand. I knew what it was and how dangerous it was … and was able to protect myself from it. But it's a bad deal."

Records indicate a 1,100 percent increase in deliberate laser strikes since the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration began tracking them in 2005, according to the bureau.

Earlier this year, the FBI launched a campaign to address the problem nationally, offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of any individual aiming a laser at aircraft.

Those with information on such incidents were asked to contact local police.

Contributing: Nkoyo Iyamba

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com, Twitter: MorganEJacobsen

1. A Chem Engineer
Pocatello, ID,
Aug. 18, 2014

One possibility is to put a billboard on I-15 advertising the $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of individuals targeting aircraft with lasers.

As a pilot, I can state that the article is soft-pedalling this incredibly. Let's put it more bluntly: a laser can blind a person temporarily (several minutes). Several years ago there were numerous incidents in which one of the two pilots on a commercial flight (landing in Las Vegas) was blinded; fortunately the other pilot was not, and was able to take over the landing. The casinos innocently responsible were "informed" and rapidly changed their attention-getters!

Bottom line: If both pilots were blinded on a visual final approach at anything much over 20 feet above the ground, the plane would crash without a doubt, killing all on board.

$10,000 reward? Make it $100,000 and make an example of the individuals when they are caught, as they certainly would be for that sum.

2. My2Cents
Taylorsville, UT,
Aug. 19, 2014

They might get more response on the reward if they don't require a conviction to report them. In fact prosecutors will down grade or plea bargains conviction unrelated to using green lasers pointers to avoid paying any reward money.

Are they sure its lasers or green LED flash lights which are not harmful to eyes? I'd like to see some comparison data on green LED flash lights and Lasers pointers and how can a pilot see such a narrow beam? Lasers don't refract in aircraft windshields like a car windshield because the way the AC windshield layers are alternated and rotated between layers to prevent refractions. That's why I think it would be difficult to hold a laser beam through moving aircraft windows. Aircraft angle of attack and cockpits on top of fuselages minimizes ground angles to target cockpit with laser lights. You would have to have a radar controlled beam to maintain beam on a fixed point moving at 200 mph+.

And what about ground equipment? Do any of them use a laser beam radar to track aircraft near landing on runways, green light beams can be distinguished in smoke and fog.

3. Lolly
Lehi, UT,
Aug. 19, 2014

As my dad always said, an idle mind is the devil's workshop and this is certainly the case here. A person should know better and yet have nothing better to do with their time. Over and over again this is happening and it needs to be stopped with the incentive of a larger fine. Better still with adults putting their childhood pranks back where they belong and parents giving strict orders about the seriousness of such an activity or taking away the lasers from their children.

4. USAlover
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 19, 2014

When America starts really punishing her criminals, we'll actually see decreases instead of 1,100% increases. And that goes for crossing our borders to trying to blind pilots with lasers.

5. TimBehrend
Auckland NZ, 00,
Aug. 19, 2014

@A Chem Engineer. When you say pilots are blinded, you mean 'flash blinded', a temporary condition. These stupid pranks do not result in blindness as far as i know. I also believe there has never been an accident caused by these pranks despite about 4000 annual 'attacks' (FAA figure for 2013). Do you think your inflationary reward is a bit unjustified?