The FBI is investigating seven incidents of lasers apparently being directed at planes that were preparing to land at U.S. airports over the past six days, including a Christmas...
WASHINGTON — The FBI is investigating seven incidents of lasers apparently being directed at planes that were preparing to land at U.S. airports over the past six days, including a Christmas Day incident in Medford, Ore., a federal official said yesterday.
“It could be anything,” said an FBI security official who asked not to be identified. “It could be people got new toys for Christmas, and they thought it would be great to test them on airplanes — or anything else.”
Authorities are concerned about the incidents because the intense lights can startle, distract, disorient or even temporarily blind a pilot, creating a safety risk, federal officials noted.
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Federal law-enforcement officials previously have expressed fears that terrorists could use lasers as weapons, and the Department of Homeland Security last month issued a bulletin about the risks of lasers, FBI and Homeland Security Department officials said.
The latest incident took place Wednesday night in Teterboro, N.J., northwest of New York, and involved a business jet. Three incidents took place Monday — two in Colorado Springs, Colo., and a third in Cleveland.
Three other incidents took place on Christmas Day — one each at Houston, Medford and Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport.
All of the flights landed safely.
In Medford, a SkyWest crew said they saw two laserlike rays of light in the cockpit of their plane as they attempted to land.
The lights appeared as their United Express plane began its descent about 8:20 p.m. Saturday. The FBI offered no explanation for the “unusual” sighting.
The Skywest pilots described the light as a laser that entered the cockpit from the chief officer’s window and did not move off the aircraft, said Alison Gemmell, director of marketing and communication for SkyWest Airlines. The pilots reported the event to airport tower personnel, Gemmell said.
Several passengers on the flight from San Francisco confirmed they, too, had seen the light through their porthole windows, she said.
It is against federal law to intentionally shine a laser beam at a commercial airline flight.
Meteorologists toyed with the possibility that the light in Medford could have been Saint Elmo’s fire, a luminous discharge of electricity into the atmosphere. The phenomenon can be observed during thunderstorms, snowstorms or dust storms as a fiery jet extending from elevated objects, including wings, propellers or other parts of an aircraft.
Beth Anne Steele, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, said federal investigators did not rule out weather as an explanation.