Crime Trackers

Feb 4, 2013 10:00 PM by Lupita Murillo

Flying blind: Tucson ranked 20th in laser incidents

TUCSON - It's becoming an epidemic, laser strikes on aircrafts. The Federal Aviation Administration began keeping tabs in 2005. Since then, there's been over a 1,000% increase.

At Tucson International Airport the latest figures say we're in the top 20.

Since the beginning of the year, we've had four reported cases.

News 4 obtained video from the Pima County Sheriff's Department showing multiple laser strikes. Deputy Chris Janes, was the pilot. He says laser strikes are all too common.

"We encounter it probably somewhere between two and three times a week. If not more."

This particular incident happened just four months ago while the air unit was helping patrol deputies look for a suspect.

"In this particular instance it affected the performance of our duties to point where I had to adjust the orbit of the existing call we were working," he said.

The laser strikes made it difficult for him and dangerous for the public below.

"Safety is an issue, it's a huge issue and at this point it's being compromised when this is happening."

2011 was a banner year for laser strikes, according to the FAA, with almost 4,000 reports from pilots. Sgt. Jim Grisham heads the Air Support unit for the sheriff's department. He says, laser strikes "can have an effect on the pilot's ability to control the aircraft, they can become disoriented."

He adds, "Our pilots fly around in mountainous areas they fly around at night, often times they wear night vision goggles. That's when it becomes even more dangerous because the light is magnified in cockpit. "If it blinds us to the point where we lose our vision the probability of us crashing it increases."

Deputies were able to find the individual responsible for this round of laser strikes, and arrested him for endangerment. Sgt. Grisham says the common response they hear from the suspects is that they were unaware of the impact the laser had on the pilots.

A year ago the President Obama signed a bill making it a federal crime to point lasers at an aircraft or at the flight path of an aircraft.

The FAA tells News 4 they are pursuing civil penalties against seven people here in Tucson for pointing lasers at aircraft's. Those penalties could go up to $11,000.

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