Seven Laser Incidents Reported at Airports Since Christmas

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2004 — -- Aviation authorities are investigating the latest in a string of incidents in which laser beams have been directed into the cockpits of commercial jets while in flight. There have been seven such incidents since Dec. 25, ABC News has learned, but the origin of the beams remains unclear.

The latest incident occurred Wednesday night at the Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, when the pilot of a business jet saw a laser light while approaching the runway.

On Dec. 25, there were three reported laser incidents at airports in Houston; Medford, Ore.; and Washington, D.C.

On Monday, two pilots reported seeing laser lights in their cockpits while flying into Colorado Springs, Colo. Both planes landed without incident.

On the same day at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the FBI says, a green laser light beam was directed into the cockpit of a Continental 737 that was 15 miles from the runway.

"This plane was targeted," said FBI special agent Bob Hawk. "It just didn't flash for a moment inside the cockpit. The plane was traveling at about 300 miles an hour, at about 8,500 to 10,000 feet. It followed the plane inside the cockpit for two to four seconds."

Terrorist Groups Interested in Using Lasers

Last month the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin to law enforcement agencies, warning "terrorist groups overseas have expressed an interest in using these devices." But, they added, there is "no specific or credible intelligence indicating that terrorists intend to use lasers as weapons against civilian targets in the homeland."

The FBI does not believe the recent incidents are terrorism-related, but the Air Line Pilots Association is concerned.

"The fact that they've been in different places in different times and now that they're increasing in number tells me this is more than just a coincidence," said Capt. Dennis Dolan, vice president of the pilots' group.

A sudden blast of light from a laser can startle, distract or temporarily blind a pilot.

"It can flash-blind one or both pilots in the airplane for a period of time where they can't see anything," Dolan said. In fact, in September, a Delta pilot five miles from the Salt Lake City runway apparently suffered temporary eye damage when the plane was flooded with laser light. The plane landed safely.

Pilots have long been concerned about lasers, and the Federal Aviation Administration mandates laser-free zones around airports. The zones extend to a height of 2,000 feet and a radius of two miles around the runway. And there's a restricted zone of 10 miles and 10,000 feet for more powerful lasers.

This first became a real problem for commercial aviation in the 1990s -- when cities like Las Vegas began outdoor laser shows. Those shows are now heavily regulated so they do not interfere with aviation.

As for who is aiming the recent lasers, and why -- authorities are trying to figure that out.

ABC News' Lisa Stark filed this report for "World News Tonight."