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FBI targets lasers that distract planes
Rochester, N.Y. -- The FBI is offering a reward to catch people whose only weapon is a laser.
Since 2012, it has been a federal offense to point a laser of any type at aircraft.
Since 2013, there have been 33 lasings in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Rochester. No one has been injured, but the growing number of incidents makes that a very real threat.
"It takes just one incident of a plane going down before everybody recognizes it's a major problem," said Special Agent Brian Boetig. "So we're trying to address it."
When it's used as intended, the small dot of light is harmless and even fun. But the pin-sized beam of light becomes cone-shaped as it travels through the sky. By the time it hits the cockpit, it is a foot in diameter or more and blinding.
"It's very disturbing and it takes a while for the pilot to be able to recover their night vision," explained Boetig.
The Federal Aviation Administration said planes in Rochester have been hit 12 times since 2013. Most people focus on planes they can see, which means the lasing happens on takeoffs or landings.
Pilots who have experienced the flash-blindness said that's what turns this from a prank into a dangerous situation.
"What goes through your mind is, 'Am I going to be able to complete this flight safely? How am I going to land when I can't see?'" said Robert Hamilton, a pilot who has been lased several times.
You may be surprised to hear that a $5 laser can get you five years in a federal prison. Watch this video for an example of lasing.
The FBI is also offering $10,000 dollar rewards for information leading to the arrest of someone who aims a laser at an aircraft.
The bureau has set up a tip line in Buffalo at (716) 856-7800.
Boetig said many people are unaware of the federal law.
"It's important they know they do not point a laser at an aircraft," he said. "It is a federal offense and it will be investigated and prosecuted."