GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Larry Graves picked up a laser pointer — “the kind you tease your cat with” — and pointed it at a wall, and into a camera lens.
The red light bounced around, reflected and produced a blinding effect.
“That’s what pilots see when they get hit with one of these,” said Graves, manager of Josephine County airports. “It’s a federal offense to illuminate a plane with a laser.”
Graves talked about the crime because local pilot Salvador Corona has again reported he’s been hit by lasers while flying around Grants Pass and Merlin at night.
Corona has reported eight incidents in the last two years. He was featured in a Daily Courier article in March 2015 for the same reason.
At that time other pilots, including at least two commercial pilots, reported the same thing, Graves said. A commercial flight to Medford was hit near Mt. Ashland, and the co-pilot had to take control temporarily, Graves said.
“(Salvador) is being lased, there’s no question in my mind,” Graves said. “I have informed the Federal Aviation Administration, because it is an official report to me. They will either refer the issue to a federal agency like the FBI in Medford, or send an investigator down from Portland. They’ll interview him, talk with other pilots, and come to the conclusion that it’s a real issue.”
Two years ago the laser incidents seemed to go away.
“They probably stopped because they read in the paper they were being looked at,” Graves said.
Graves said he hasn’t heard any reports from other local pilots in over a year.
But Corona flies at night more than most pilots, and is very upset about the targeting. He knocked on doors and talked to people after he suspected someone was using a laser in a neighborhood near the airport in Merlin.
He said he’s going to buy a pair of protective glasses to wear while flying in or around Grants Pass and Merlin.
“Just RIDICULOUS!!!,” he wrote in an email. “People should know the potential catastrophic effects.”
Corona said he was flying last Friday night over Grants Pass with another pilot in the passenger seat when a green laser hit his plane from a moving car on Williams Highway.
“I immediately took a steep, 45-degree turn to shield myself and my passenger from the dangerous effects from the laser,” Corona said.
He said he saw the car go toward the nearby Allen Creek McDonald’s parking lot.
“My passenger and myself dodged the dangerous ray of the laser and eventually landed safely before midnight.”
Graves has tried to deal with the laser episodes. Grants Pass police have also been notified.
“I’ve spoken with Salvador and with others about this issue. Nighttime laser illuminations of locally based aircraft have been reported sporadically in each of my six years here,” Graves said. “There have been several locations within a mile or so of the airport that have been identified as sources of these illegal laser illumination of aircraft. Other incidents have occurred at sites closer to downtown Grants Pass as well.”
Lasers are highly amplified light beams used in science, but less powerful ones have become popular in the last 25 years, for pointing during lectures and as a novelty.
Even the smaller ones can travel thousands of feet, and when the light scatters after hitting an airplane window it can temporarily blind pilots.
“Laser light is extremely concentrated, and when this light strikes the retina, it will cause temporary blindness, especially at night when the pupil of the eye is dilated to let in the maximum amount of light,” Graves said.
“One can imagine the consequences of blinding a pilot who is flying an aircraft on final approach.”
In 2012 President Obama signed a law making it a federal crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. Two years later, the FBI launched a new public awareness campaign on the issue and authorized rewards up to $10,000 to track down anyone responsible.
And in 2015, a 41-year-old man from Portland received a six-month prison sentence for distracting pilots on United and JetBlue flights as they flew over his apartment.
According to the FBI, Stephen Bukucs told agents he’d “targeted up to 25 aircraft … for entertainment and as a ‘cat-and-mouse’ game.”
Information from: Daily Courier, http://www.thedailycourier.com