So many more people are pointing hand-held lasers at aircraft — which can temporarily blind the pilot — that federal official announed Tuesday that they will offer a $10,000 reward for information about incidents.
At a press conference at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, Michael Kaste, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Kansas City, announced the launch of the national campaign. Pointing a laser at aircraft is a federal violation that can result in a penalty of up to five years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
The $10,000 reward is available for 90 days in all 56 FBI field offices, he said.
“We are lucky that, nationally, there has not been a fatality yet,” Kaste said. “It’s not an ‘if’ but a ‘when.’ It will be a bad ending to someone going out and doing something completely stupid.”
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Since the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration began tracking laser strikes in 2005, there has been more than 10-fold increase in incidents of people targeting aircraft with hand-held lasers, Kaste said. In the Kansas City Division territory, which covers the Western District of Missouri and the state of Kansas, there were 49 laser strikes reported in 2012 and 51 in 2013.
Kansas City Police helicopter pilot Cord Laws said at the press conference that he can recount five times when a hand-held laser has interfered with the helicopter he was in.
“One time we were going in for a landing on the helipad at night,” he said. “We saw a laser beaming from a passenger seat of a car. At the time of landing, the concentration of the pilot has to be completely on landing.”
Laws said police were able to take the laser-pointer into custody by tracing the beam to the car.
“In the incidents we’ve had, people think it’s a joke,” Laws said. “It’s not a joke; there is a chance for serious potential injury.”
Due to the dramatic increase in reported laser attacks, the FBI kicked off a pilot program in early February aimed at raising awareness and offering a monetary reward in 12 metropolitan areas, Kaste said.
“In those areas, reported incidents have decreased 19 percent,” Kaste said. “This campaign will work.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Ketchmark said that laser-users will be prosecuted, although no one in the district has been prosecuted yet.
“Part of the message today is increased awareness of the consequences,” Ketchmark said. “This is a serious risk to general public at large. We will be very aggressive moving forward.”
After the press conference, a simulation using the Children’s Mercy helicopter and a green laser pointer showed how a laser beam can blindingly shine into the cockpit.
“Part of the reason in using the Children’s Mercy aircraft is to show that the aircraft you are blinding could be carrying someone’s child that is in dire need of help,” said Bridget Patton, spokeswoman with the FBI's Kansas City office. “We need to raise awareness that this is never a good idea.”
Individuals with information about a lasing incident can contact the Kansas City FBI at 816-512-8200.
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