CHICAGO (CBS) – Federal authorities say they are zeroing in on suspects who have flashed lasers at airplanes in the Chicago region.
The dangerous, potentially blinding attacks on pilots have happened 98 times in the past year.
CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez talked with a pilot who was hit by a laser.
Sgt. George Nestorovich, a pilot with the Lake County Police Department says he knows the danger of lasers all too well. He was nearly blinded by the light, while searching for a murder suspect in his police chopper.
“I caught out of the corner of my eye a red flash,” Nestorovich said. “When I went to look again, that’s when I realized what had happened – we were being painted by a laser from the ground.”
Video captured in Palo Alto, Calif. just last week shows the way a laser can illuminate the cockpit, potentially blinding the pilot. And there’s been a huge increase in the number of planes reporting laser incidents in the Chicago area this year, with O’Hare now ranking No. 2 in the nation.
“We’re seeing more reports because of awareness in the aviation community, but we’re also seeing a greater availability of lasers, and more people are using them carelessly,” Elizabeth Cory, an FAA spokeswoman, said.
Finding the laser-wielding suspects on the ground is difficult. But the FBI has had some success in Chicago area cases.
“Fortunately, we were able to identify two individuals that committed these acts, we believe,” FBI spokesman Ross Rice said.
But Rice says some suspects may never be charged because they may not have intended to cause harm.
“As we used to say as a kid you don’t make a federal offense out of it. Well, that’s exactly what it can become,” he said.
Nestorovich says he was lucky in that he was hit with a red laser. The green ones are even more dangerous.
The most dangerous are commercial type lasers you can buy on the Internet. But even a $20 to $40 laser pointer from an office supply store can cause trouble.