New York

Chopper 4 Hit by Laser, Helps Police Locate Suspects

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating two instances of lasers being pointed at news helicopters Wednesday evening, including at NBC New York's Chopper 4. 

Chopper 4 was heading to downtown Brooklyn to cover the arrest of an alleged Greyhound bus thief when it was struck by a green laser, seen in Chopper 4 footage above. 

The helicopter remained over Prospect Heights as the pilot and Chopper 4 reporter Dennis Protsko attempted to pinpoint the source of the laser from 1,500 feet in the air. Protsko rotated Chopper 4's camera and spotted a group of what appeared to be workers behind a health food restaurant pointing the laser not only at Chopper 4, but also at an NYPD chopper when it came to investigate. 

"We could actually see him standing back outside the building with the laser in his hand shooting at us," Protsko is heard saying in the video.

The workers appeared to be laughing as they pointed the laser. Protsko said it's no laughing matter.

"You get hit in the face like that, in the eyes, and you can go temporarily blind," he later told NBC 4 New York. 

"We're talking about a helicopter that weighs almost two tons," he added. "Imagine that coming down on your house because the pilot's vision is impaired. Even more serious if it was a jetliner." 

Authorities, including NYPD and the FAA, were contacted and guided to the location --a health food restaurant on Fulton Street -- with the help of Chopper 4. Two people were taken into custody, and one of them, a 20-year-old cook at the eatery, was arrested, police said. 

Law enforcement sources told NBC 4 New York the cook was found holding a frying pan with the laser inside it when police went to the restaurant. He told police pointing the laser was meant to be a joke, according to sources. 

The FAA said New York ABC affiliate WABC-TV also reported its news helicopter being struck by a laser near Newark Airport at about 5:20 p.m. A 26-year-old man was arrested and charged with interference with transportation and utilizing a laser toward an aircraft.

Pointing a laser at a plane is a federal crime, and the FAA since 2011 has been moving to enforce penalties against those found pointing lasers at aircraft, including imposing civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation. 

The agency said there has been a drastic increase in the number of laser strike reports over the last 10 years for a variety of reasons — including greater awareness on the part of pilots, more inexpensive lasers available for sale online and stronger laser power levels that allow the light to hit aircraft at higher altitudes, as well the introduction of green lasers, which are more visible to the human eye than red lasers. 

In 2014, 3,894 laser incidents were reported across the U.S., including Puerto Rico, and 116 of them were in the tri-state, according to the FAA. 

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