By Vic Carter

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A frightening trend is growing across the nation and in Maryland from something anyone can buy at an office supply store or online.

Vic Carter investigates laser danger.

More and more people are targeting airplanes and helicopters with laser pointers.  It’s definitely not a prank and could result in catastrophe.

Southwest Airlines Flight 512 was on its final approach to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.  It was flying low over Millersville and more than 130 people were on board.  It’s the most critical time of the flight, landing a 50-ton jet.  Suddenly, a flash from the ground blinded the pilots for a few precious seconds.  Someone from the ground targeted the cockpit with a green laser, burning the pilots’ eyes.  They landed safely but this could have been catastrophic.  The pilots were rushed to the hospital with eye injuries.

WJZ obtained the air traffic control recording from this night, showing just how dangerous this growing trend can be.  Our investigation reveals the number of airplanes and helicopters targeted by lasers doubled in the past year to 2,800—the highest level ever.

It happened to a Medevac chopper.

“I picked up a bright flash coming from about the 2:00 position,” said Marcus Alberghini, Medevac pilot.  “I said, `I think it’s a laser pointed at this aircraft.'”

One of Maryland’s Medevac choppers was targeted over Sykesville, just after dropping off a patient. 

“When it hit, this entire cockpit was lit up,” Alberghini said.  “The cockpit is very dark and that amount of focused light energy in here, it just expands tremendously.  It can cause flash blindness, it can cause dazzle effect.”

Fortunately, Alberghini and flight paramedic Gregg Lantz were able to control the chopper and pinpoint the laser on the ground.  The person shining it was arrested and charged.

“We could have lost the whole aircraft if it had been a different situation, or had damage to our eyes, damage to our equipment,” Lantz said.

A number of problems are associated with laser pointers.  Number one, they’re plentiful.  You can find them just about anywhere.  Secondly, they’re inexpensive; Vic Carter bought one for about $10.  Also, they’re powerful.  Some have a range as far as two miles.  Our camera on the roof of a building a mile away had no problem picking up the beam of the laser.  An airplane on final approach flies at just a few thousand feet.  It’s frightening how easy a target it could be.

“I don’t think there’s any understanding the damage it can do,” said aviation consultant Peter Goelz.

Goelz is the former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. 

“It’s mind-boggling that someone would think that that’s not dangerous,” Goelz said.  “There needs to be greater understanding that these are not toys and that people can get hurt by them.  It’s not a prank.”

In fact, both houses of Congress have recently passed legislation to make laser strikes on airplanes or helicopters a federal crime.

“We could have hit something or we could have had a catastrophic accident,” Alberghini said.  “You could wind up taking out an aircraft and all the passengers on board.”

The FBI is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person who targeted the Southwest Airlines plane over BWI.

Comments (11)
  1. vall says:

    There is absolutely no use for these things.. It would be much cheaper to pull all of them and not make them anymore than it would be to use taxpayer money to pass a law, make cops try to find the idiots using these things (which is near impossible), arrest them, make them stand trial, have witnesses appear, have the case thrown out a few times etc etc etc… basically utilizing the joke of a judicial system we have in place now. It would be easier, safer and cheaper to not allow these things to be sold. end of story. They are of no use.
    Teachers and those doing presentations for work etc have gotten along for many years without them. They are not needed in our world.

    1. lolsilly says:

      Typical ignorant, liberal mentality. Don’t like it? Ban it. No wonder this is turning into a third-world country.

      Hate to break it to you, but there are many uses for lasers, particularly in construction and the tech sector, and it’s not difficult at all to modify lasers to make them extremely powerful. Besides, lasers are so prevalent already, what’s banning them going to do?

      Seems like even if you ban them you’re still going to have the enforcement issues… so why not just make the penalties extremely harsh so as to encourage legitimate use only? No… that’s too logical for a liberal.

  2. Steve says:

    I completely agree. This is a worthless product that is mainly used by people with ill intentions. Consumer groups get other items pulled from the shelfs when they adversly affect lives, this item needs to be added to that list.

  3. Leah C says:

    These laser pointers have more uses than just on the corporate level and idiots looking for ill-timed jollies. They’re also used as pet toys. I have 2 or 3, solely used for play around the house with my 9-year-old cat. I’ve also seen dogs chase after the beam.

  4. Jonathan Chiles says:

    Just some food for thought. 2800 cases last year, and not a single crash. – just saying.
    I believe it was made illegal to point at low flying aircraft after 9-11 in fear that it could be a sniper rifle laser, and not a kid’s laser.
    I would love to see the medical report for the two pilots that had their eye’s “Burned” by this laser pointer. Strange how it was able to hit both pilots, while traveling at 200 mph, at over a 1000 ft up . – if they ever do find this person, they should be a sniper for the navy seals.
    The whole this is more of an annoyance rather then being a threat.

    Additionally – why is it when one person miss uses a product, we have to ban it? A thousand times over, they are used correctly and because a few, mostly teens miss using them; then we all have to suffer?? I say make the fines equal to the crime.

  5. Chip says:

    How come State Police are not reporting hundreds of blinded motorists – if laser pointer abuse is so common.?

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