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  • Summer of Laser Incidents
Aug 2007
PITTSFIELD, Mass., Aug. 9, 2007 -- What would summer be without fireworks, lightning bugs, meteor showers, barbecues ...  or laser pointers?

Police and aviation authorities are increasingly reporting -- and in some cases are targets or even the source of -- laser devices being wielded around the world. The following summarizes some recent incidents:

On Aug. 3, just before midnight, a Qantas pilot at the controls of a Boeing 767 carrying 185 passengers from Sydney, Australia, to Darwin was targeted by a laser beam, prompting an investigation. He landed the plane safety but made the return trip to Sydney as a passenger, reportedly as a precaution, the Sydney Morning Herald said. It said he was referred to a Qantas doctor for assessment but that no injuries were confirmed or specified. The incident was reported to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and federal police, and Qantas disclosed no information about the possible source of the laser.

The article also said motorists in nine cars were "accidentally put in the sights" of a laser guidance system in May that was being tested by F/A-18 fighter jets on Australia's North Coast of New South Wales. "An investigation concluded that the chances of injury were remote, with the risk of eye exposure considered low," it said. A spokesman for the Australian and International Pilots Association told the Herald there have been "a spate of these incidents over the past few months." 

A July 3 AP report said a pilot approaching Logan Airport had been targeted by a green laser beam a few days earlier as his jet, Northwest Airlines Flight 170 from Minneapolis, descended toward the airport (It was able to land safely). According to the AP, he had reported that the plane was "being painted by a laser" that was beaming a strong green light into the cockpit. "Air traffic controllers steered later flights away from the area from where the laser was pointed, which the pilot said was about seven miles southeast of the airport," the article said. The exact location wasn't determined. It was the fifth laser-related incident recorded at Logan since 2005. (Pilots have reported more than 900 laser incidents nationally since the Federal Aviation Administration began recording them in late 2004. See also: "'Pilot' Laser Study Launched")

On June 26, a Tulsa man was arrested after allegedly pointing a laser from his car at a police helicopter, which followed the car until an officer on the ground stopped it. Inside the car, police found a high-intensity green laser.

A little later that week, a man who lives near Royal Air Force Leuchars in Scotland shone what the Scottish tabloid The Daily Record described as "a powerful laser" at pilots of Tornado jets passing over his house because he was fed up with the noise and wanted to "teach them a lesson."

Pilots reported the matter to their superiors, who called the police. The man admitted two charges of recklessly shining a laser at passing aircraft and was fined £400 (about $800). He had previously complained about the low-flying planes  to the RAF but received no response, reports said.

On July 20, the Illinois News-Gazette reported that an 18-year-old Urbana man was accused of pointing a laser at a police officer in Champaign. The article said the officer had been patrolling in his squad car when a laser beam was shone through his windshield and across his chest; the driver of a car going in the opposite direction stopped and admitted he had pointed the laser and handed over the pointer, the News-Gazette said. The man was arraigned on a Class A misdemeanor charge of pointing a laser at a police officer.

On the same day, CBS 11 News of Dallas, Texas, aired a story about "a possible prank that may have put the lives of two helicopter pilots in jeopardy." The Dallas Police Department's Air One helicopter was patrolling over north Dallas when its two pilots were "struck in the eyes with a green laser multiple times, causing spots and pain in each eye," according to a quoted police report. The pilots continued flying and alerted officers on the ground who identified the person pointing the light. The 25-year-old man was issued a citation for assault, and the police helicopter pilots told CBS 11 News that they may seek federal charges.

High-power green lasers, which could at least temporarily blind a person, can be easily purchased online. Even instructions for building them are readily available. A recent blog post includes a link to a video that demonstrates how to create a handheld laser, using the laser from a DVD burner, that's powerful enough to pop a balloon or light a match. See also: "'Overpowered' Laser Pointer Sales Prompt FDA Probe"

The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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