• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

LAX reports highest numbers of laser incidents

January 19, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
It's a frightening crime: lasers pointed at planes and other aircraft, putting the safety of pilots and passengers at risk. More laser incidents happen at Los Angeles International Airport and in the L.A. area than anywhere else.Last year there were more laser events reported at LAX than any other airport in the country.

When someone points a laser at a plane, it can temporarily blind the pilot, and of course that can compromise the safety of the pilot and all the passengers on board. It's not just commercial aircraft, it's also news media and law-enforcement planes as well.

Glendale Police Sgt. Steve Robinson is supervisor for the Glendale Police Air Support Unit. He knows firsthand the dangers of pointing lasers at aircraft. He was co-piloting during a routine patrol flight in south Glendale in the 1990s when he was struck by a green laser.

"Immediately, I felt an intense pain in both my eyes, I lost vision in both eyes, momentarily, in both eyes," said Robinson. "It had felt like I was hit in the face with a baseball bat."

Fortunately, the pilot was not as seriously impacted by the laser and was able to land the chopper safely. It was the first time that had happened while Robertson was flying -- a rare occurrence back then, but far too frequent today.

"Most recent one was last week and I was flying and a jetliner on final descent into Burbank was struck," said Robinson.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), 2010 was a record year for the number of laser events reported and almost doubled from the previous year to more than 2,800 incidents. LAX recorded the highest number of laser events in the country for an airport, more than 100.

The greater Los Angeles area tallied nearly twice that number, and airports in Chicago, Phoenix and San Jose weren't far behind.

"This is a serious safety issue. Lasers can distract and harm pilots who are working to get passengers safely to their destinations," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

"You could realistically hit an aircraft that is up at 20,000 feet," said Robinson.

The FAA is actively warning people not to point high-powered lasers at aircraft and is encouraging pilots to continue to report laser events to air-traffic controllers so law enforcement can be contacted.

"This isn't a game, it's not a video game that you can rewind, it's not a button that you can push 'reset' or put another quarter into the machine, these are real people's lives," said Robinson.

Most cities like Los Angeles have laws making it illegal to shine lasers at aircraft and in most cases, if caught, people can face federal charges.