The FBI is investigating a report by a SkyWest crew, who say they saw two laser-like rays of light in the cockpit of their plane as they attempted to land at the Medford airport Christmas night.
MEDFORD, Ore. — The FBI is investigating a report by a SkyWest crew, who say they saw two laser-like rays of light in the cockpit of their plane as they attempted to land at the Medford airport Christmas night.
The lights appeared as their United Express plane began its descent at about 8:20 p.m. Saturday. The FBI offered no explanation for the “unusual” sighting.
“It’s just a suspicious event at this point,” Beth Anne Steele, FBI spokeswoman in Portland, told the Mail Tribune.
The 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, and the FBI was called in as a routine matter of notification, Gemmell said.
SkyWest has also filed its own report, she added.
Several passengers on the flight from San Francisco confirmed they, too, had seen the light through their porthole windows as the plane was about two miles south of the airport’s runway, Gemmell said.
The oddity did not disrupt normal business at the airport and the plane was able to land safely, Steele said.
A bulletin issued last month by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned police agencies nationwide that terrorist groups have shown an interest in using laser beams to bring down planes.
Laser beams pointed at pilots can adversely affect their eyesight. In September, a Delta Air Lines pilot reported damage to his retina from a laser beam shone at him during a landing in Salt Lake City.
It is against federal law to intentionally shine a laser beam at a commercial airline flight.
Local 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.
Snow fell at high altitudes late Saturday, said Ryan Sandler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Medford office. Sandler said he couldn’t pinpoint electrical activity during the storm but couldn’t rule out such an occurrence.
Steele said federal investigators did not rule out weather as an explanation. The FBI, she said, intends to investigate all possibilities.