Aircraft over East Texas seeing problems with lasers - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Aircraft over East Texas seeing problems with lasers

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An image from a Dallas police helicopter shows a laser striking the aircraft in 2013 (Source: Dallas Police Dept.) An image from a Dallas police helicopter shows a laser striking the aircraft in 2013 (Source: Dallas Police Dept.)
TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation has expanded its reward program for a problem nationwide and in East Texas, aircraft being targeted by lasers on the ground.

Previously only offered in major cities, the FBI's $10,000 reward for those targeting aircraft with lasers, has been expanded nationwide.

KLTV 7 poured over thousands of documents from the Federal Aviation Administration and found East Texas also is seeing a problem with aircraft being targeted with lasers. In 2011, five aircraft over East Texas skies reported being hit by a laser. In 2012, that number grew to six. Already in 2014, two incidents have been reported in East Texas. One was reported in Paris and the other was reported in Longview.

Philip Rispin, LeTourneau University's assistant chief flight instructor, said a number of things could happen to a pilot that gets targeted with a laser.

"With a laser light hitting the windscreen creating a distraction, often these lights are red or green and these pilots are trained to respond to colored lights in the cockpit," Rispin said. "Red ones indicating some kind of emergency is happening and the green ones saying everything's okay so they're taught to respond to that kind of stuff."

He said depending on the plane the windshield of the aircraft could make the one point of light much larger.

"Light when it gets there, it's spread on the windscreen and prevents the ability of the pilot to see through the windscreen at a critical phase of flight," he said.

But the danger is not just present when pilots are departing or arriving at a local airport, data from the FAA showed some aircraft high in the skies over East Texas reported laser incidents.

An American Eagle flight reported a green laser near the East Texas Regional Airport in March 2013. The flight was flying at 23,000 feet at the time of the report and no injuries were cited.

Large planes are not immune to the danger from lasers. A FedEx Airbus 306 reported being hit by a green laser at 35,000 feet near Quitman. No injuries were cited in that incident.

Dr. Ming Lu, a Trinity Clinic retina specialist, said likely what most pilots experience is what's referred to as "flash blindness."

"When we have a laser directly pointed toward the eye the retina becomes saturated with the light so it cannot focus on any other object," he said.

Dr. Lu said the vision loss from flash blindness could last a few seconds to a minute before the eye adjusts back to the night sky.

The FBI is offering the laser reward because not many people who shine the lasers are getting caught. One man in Dallas learned that lesson the hard way when he pointed his laser at a Dallas police helicopter.

The helicopter, equipped with a camera was able to direct ground units to the suspect, Kenneth Santodomingo's location. He was arrested and charged in federal court. He eventually entered a guilty plea and is serving time in prison.

Texas also has a section of penal code referring to lasers pointed at aircraft. It is classified as a misdemeanor charge. The federal charge could carry with it up to five years in prison.

Pilots said unless they can view the suspect with a camera like Dallas police did, there's little they and law enforcement can do to catch those responsible.

"Whenever lasers are being used and the authorities know about it, a bit of information called a NOTAM (NOtice To AirMen)  is issued and we get told about areas we're supposed to avoid," Rispin said.  

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