Thursday, December 30, 2004

FBI Probing Laser Beam Aimed at Plane's Cockpit

FBI Probing Laser Beam Aimed at Plane's Cockpit
From Associated Press

December 30, 2004

CLEVELAND — Authorities said Wednesday they were investigating a mysterious laser beam that was directed into the cockpit of a commercial jet traveling at more than 8,500 feet.

The beam appeared Monday when the plane was about 15 miles from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the FBI said.

"It was in there for several seconds like [the plane] was being tracked," FBI agent Robert Hawk said.

The pilot was able to land the plane, and air traffic controllers used radar to determine the laser came from a residential area in suburban Warrensville Heights.

Hawk said the laser had to be fairly sophisticated to track a plane traveling at that altitude. Authorities had no other leads, and were investigating whether the incident was a prank or if there was a more sinister motive.

Federal officials have expressed concern about terrorists using laser beams, which can distract or temporarily blind a pilot.

A memo sent to law enforcement agencies recently by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department says there is evidence that terrorists have explored using lasers as weapons. Authorities said there was no specific intelligence indicating Al Qaeda or other groups might use lasers in the United States.

In September a pilot for Delta Air Lines reported an eye injury from a laser beam shone into the cockpit during a landing approach in Salt Lake City. The incident occurred about 5 miles from the airport. The plane landed safely.

Lasers are commonly used in a number of industries and are featured in outdoor light shows.

The FAA mandates that laser light shows must register their locations and the lights cannot be directed above 3,000 feet. Lasers are also often used by construction companies to line up foundations.

Interfering with a commercial flight is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.