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WKMG-TV’s helicopter was filming a football game at Paul J. Hagerty High School with the incident occurred. A screenshot of footage from the TV helicopter shows the bright green flash as the beam is aimed directly at the camera:
A second later, as the beam is aimed away from the camera, the laser location is visible in the crowd at the end of the bleachers:
A close-up of the video footage, taken just after the laser was turned off, shows the two suspects. The bright object at lower left inside the yellow circle appears to be the laser, held in the left suspect’s right hand.
According to the station, a sheriff’s department helicopter was also hit; presumably it was responding to the WKMG illumination. Deputies told WKMG reporter Shaun Chaiyabhat that they talked to two teenaged suspects, but the deputies think the teens might have passed the laser pointer to friends in the crowd.
Chaiyabhat said “The Sheriff’s Office is taking this very seriously because they say it could be a federal crime.”
UPDATED - September 22 2014: WKMG ran a recap and short update on the story. The laser was not only pointed at the helicopters, but “players on the field were also complaining of getting flashed by the bright light.” As of the update, no arrests had been made.
The reporter in the helicopter was surprised a laser could be so intense: “I didn’t realize how bright it was,” Tammy Rose was quoted as saying. “From the ground, it doesn’t look like it shoots that far into the sky. … I was surprised at how much it actually lit up the screens. It’s very dangerous. People don’t understand the gravity of the situation.“
Police went door to door after the 6:30 am Friday Feb. 25 2011 illumination, in an attempt to find a suspect. As of Monday Feb. 28 no results had been reported.
The animation above shows frames from just before and just after a direct hit on the news helicopter. For the complete video, visit the link below. (Don’t click on the gray “Play” button in the center -- it is part of the screen capture, and is not a working button.)
From 3TV (azfamily.com)
All the planes were targeted during a 20-minute period Sunday night, and all landed safely. But the incident led to pilots simultaneously trying to avoid being temporarily blinded by the light while trying to help authorities pinpoint its source, believed to be about a mile north of the airport.
Air traffic controllers continuously cautioned pilots about the light during the episode, which lasted from 7:10 to 7:30 p.m. PT.
A pilot reported the source to be a block and a half west of an interstate. Airport authorities said they conducted two searches of the area but did not find the culprit.
Officials note that it is a federal crime to point a laser light at an aircraft, and pilots are required to report encounters with laser lights. Officials fear that the lights could cause an accident by blinding pilots or otherwise affecting their night vision.
The FBI has “made it a priority” to investigate laser incidents, according to CNN reporter Jeanne Meserve.. MSNBC reports that the Transportation Safety Administration is also involved in the investigation.
Additional details from CNN and MSNBC. A CNN video of the news story “Lasers aimed at planes”, reported by Jeanne Meserve, is also available from CNN’s website. The video adds information on the FBI which is not in the website print version.
UPDATE: On March 6 2009, police arrested Christopher C. Saunders on the felony charge of first-degree unlawful discharge of a laser. His apartment is in Burien, near the area where the lasers originated. According to the Seattle Times, Saunders told police he was “pointing the light in multiple directions outside a party and may have layered a plane.” From KOMOnews and the Seattle Times.
UPDATE #2: A March 25 2009 AP story stated that Saunders had been released with no charges filed against him. The story also noted that a laser was aimed at an Alaska Airlines flight landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The source of the laser was “near the source of previous laser reports.” From SignOnSanDiego quoting KOMO television.
Click to play the full YouTube video:
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com
Some might say that the laser in this incident looked “manageable”. But there are a number of issues:
- The person might have bad aim. With care or a tripod, this could have been much worse.
- The laser might be relatively low-powered, such as 5 mW or less. If a higher-power laser was used, obviously the light would be much brighter.
- We are seeing what a camera sees. The human eye could be more bothered by the laser hits.
- The pilots are obviously distracted, in two major ways. The light itself is distracting, plus they are concentrating on this incident (trying to find the perpetrator). They are taking time away from “normal” police work to have to deal with this situation.
- If the police had been able to find the perpetrator, he or she would have been arrested. This would quickly turn a “prank” into a serious, expensive matter for the person. (Search this page for the categories Arrests and Fines and jail to see that this is a real possibility.)
As stated elsewhere in this website, levels of laser light which may seem reasonable to laser enthusiasts cause problems for pilots. The simplest solution is to NEVER aim a laser at an aircraft.
Thanks to “Nordhavn” from laserpointerforums.com for bringing this video to our attention