lasers

Long Island Plane, Helicopter Pilots Blinded By Lasers More Frequently Than Ever Before

There has not been a plane crash - or even a minor mishap - pinned to a laser attack, but members of the flying community say that’s no reason to minimize the danger

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Suffolk County Police Sergeant John Vahey remembers the call just before 3 a.m. on May 10 that sent police scrambling into the sky and put air traffic near Long Island’s MacArthur Airport on high alert.

“Pilot was flying in the area, getting ready to land and the aircraft inside the cockpit was illuminated by a laser,” he tells the News 4 I-Team.

The pilot of the private helicopter was temporarily blinded but managed to land safely. The suspect vanished into the darkness, frustrating authorities who are alarmed by the rising number of incidents involving laser pointers aimed at aircraft.

“They’re readily available,” Vahey says. “You can order them online and frankly I think people were bored with being isolated by COVID and playing around with them like they were toys.”

The number of incidents is on the rise. On Long Island, the FAA reports laser strikes soared from five in 2020 in 132 in 2021 – and accounted for more than half of the strikes in New York last year. Statewide, reports jumped 91 percent in 2021. Nationwide, the increase was more than 41 percent.

There has not been a plane crash - or even a minor mishap - pinned to a laser attack. But members of the flying community say that’s no reason to minimize the danger.

“It’s disorienting and like that initial shock of what happens,” recalls Long Island-based pilot Brian Sheridan. Flight instructor Michael Canders likens the experience to “old styled flash bulbs from a camera going off so there’s a temporary blindness.”

Suffolk County police have tracked down suspects from the sky and now use laser protective glasses, GPS technology, and infrared cameras to hunt them down.

“We can point it at a person on the ground and get a street address and then send ground units there,” Vahey says, adding a warning for parents and anyone who would point a laser to the sky. “it’s not a toy. Don’t give them to kids and if you do point it at an aircraft we will come and look for you.”

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