Making a Point About Lasers

FBI public service announcement illustrates dangers of pointing lasers at aircraft.

Video Transcript

Narrator: Shining this handheld laser pointer is making for endless entertainment…testing how far the beam reaches into the night sky, seeing what it hits, and watching the way it shines.

Seems harmless from this perspective. But from the point of view of this aircraft pilot, it causes scary moments in the sky.

It’s easy to see why from this FBI simulation. What was a pinhole-size beam on the ground is now a couple of feet wide in the sky.

The expanded beam temporarily blinds pilots, preventing them from seeing the flight controls.

Captain Robert Hamilton of the Air Line Pilots Association, International says he has experienced flash blindness, a painful burning sensation in his eyes, and after-imaging a handful of times while in flight.

Captain Robert Hamilton/ALPA, Security Council Chairman: It is a tremendous distraction within the flight deck. It is a very real safety hazard, and it brings the very real possibility of having an aircraft accident as the result of this action.

Narrator: Aiming a laser at an aircraft is called lasing. It threatens the lives of flight crews, passengers, and even those on the ground.

Captain Robert Hamilton/ALPA, Security Council Chairman: 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?” which is one of the most critical components for me as a pilot is to be able to see to land this aircraft safely.

Narrator: Lasing is a threat to aviation safety, and it’s a federal crime.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent John Kitzinger is the chief of the Violent Crimes Unit at FBI Headquarters in the nation’s capital…

FBI Supervisory Special Agent John Kitzinger: What if this were your family aboard that aircraft? You would want them to be safe and protected. The FBI is taking this crime very seriously. We don’t want a catastrophe to happen.

Narrator: Federal, state, and local law enforcement and pilots alike are warning of the dangers and penalties of lasing.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent John Kitzinger: If you’re a teenager, and you think this is a joke, be very careful of the choices that you make. You won’t get a second chance. If you’re identified, you’ll have a record that will follow you for the rest of your life.

Narrator: The choice Justin Stouder made when he lased a local police helicopter for fun had dire consequences.

The then-24-year-old was arrested and lost two career opportunities while his case was pending. He publicly apologized to the pilot saying…

Justin Stouder: “It was really a selfish mistake. I don’t know if the pilot has children, but if that aircraft would have went down, it would affect so many people aside from myself.”

Narrator: In July of 2011, Stouder successfully completed a one-year program, and the U.S. Attorney’s office agreed to not pursue charges.

Others may not get the same break. Eight months later, in February of 2012, a federal law was passed making lasing punishable by up to five years in prison. Offenders can also receive an $11,000 fine.

FBI airport liaison agents in 56 field offices across the country are aggressively investigating this crime, and laser law violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

If you’re thinking of aiming a laser at an aircraft, make it a point to think again. Don’t let a prank lead to prison.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent John Kitzinger: We are asking the public’s assistance to be good citizens, and to report someone engaged in this type of behavior in an effort to decrease these incidents so we can avoid a catastrophe.

Halpern: If you see someone lasing, report it to your local FBI office or dial 911.

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