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Police investigate laser targeting aircraft near S.L. airport

Published: Monday, Aug. 18 2014 7:05 p.m. MDT

Police are investigating reports of a laser being pointed into the cockpits of three aircraft approaching Salt Lake City International Airport on Sunday.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Police are investigating reports of a laser being pointed into the cockpits of three aircraft approaching the Salt Lake City International Airport on Sunday.

Between 8 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., three pilots reported a green laser being pointed into the cockpits while the planes were landing. The SkyWest planes, each carrying between 20 and 50 passengers, landed without incident, according to airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann.

Each pilot reported the laser coming from an area about 6 miles south of the airport.

"It's a federal offense, and there are severe consequences if somebody is discovered doing it because of the danger it can cause to the pilot," Gann said. "Not only will it disorient a pilot, but it can also damage their eyesight and interfere with them operating an aircraft."

Dave Haymond, president of the Utah General Aviation Association, said pointing a laser at an aircraft is not a harmless prank, contrary to what many may think.

"I think probably there's a lot of people that really don't understand how serious this can be," Haymond said. "If you're in a commercial airliner and there's 250 people on board, and your pilot is disabled visually, you're putting not only all the people in the airplane at risk, but people on the ground as well."

Haymond recalled being targeted by a laser while flying a private plane with four people on board into an airstrip near Sandy. It was nighttime, and the laser came into the cockpit several times over the course of about 10 seconds, he said.

"When the laser came into the cockpit, I realized immediately what it was, and specifically didn't look at it," Haymond said. "In fact, (I) shielded my eyes with my hand. I knew what it was and how dangerous it was … and was able to protect myself from it. But it's a bad deal."

Records indicate a 1,100 percent increase in deliberate laser strikes since the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration began tracking them in 2005, according to the bureau.

Earlier this year, the FBI launched a campaign to address the problem nationally, offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of any individual aiming a laser at aircraft.

Those with information on such incidents were asked to contact local police.

Contributing: Nkoyo Iyamba

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com, Twitter: MorganEJacobsen

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