NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating after a dozen flights reported being hit by a laser beam while over New Jersey on Wednesday night.
The FAA said 11 commercial flights and one military aircraft reported being hit, with all the incidents happening between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported Thursday.
Four of the incidents were clustered in the sky over the Outerbridge Crossing, which connects Staten Island to Perth Amboy, New Jersey, WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported. The military plane was far south in Cape May County, suggesting multiple parties are responsible.
Three of the incidents happened to flights near Newark Liberty International Airport, the FAA said.
American Airlines Flight 1472 was 20 miles southwest, American Airlines 966 was at 3,000 feet, 15 miles south of Newark, and Porter 141 was at 3,000 feet and 15 miles southwest of the airport, the FAA said.
American Flight 348 was at 9,000 feet over New Jersey bound for LaGuardia Airport when it was illuminated, the FAA said.
Two more flights were over Monmouth County about seven miles northeast of Robbinsville when they were hit by the beam. Republic Airlines 4632 was at 9,000 feet headed for Pittsburgh, while United 330 was at 9,000 feet, the FAA said.
JetBlue Flight 2779 did not report its location and the last aircraft reported it was hit by a laser over Ocean City, the FAA said.
The probe into the strikes is being led by the FBI’s Newark division, which is headed by Special Agent Richard Frankel.
“We have no reason to think that it’s coordinated, but we have no reason to think that it isn’t,” Frankel said.
As CBS2’s Matt Kozar reported, air traffic controllers had to change the landing patterns Wednesday for several of the flights.
In an air traffic control recordings archived on the website LiveATC.net, some of the pilots can be heard reporting the incidents.
Pilot 1: “Tower, American 966: We just got a laser shot about 8 o’clock.”
Tower: “Roger, 8 o’clock. How far away would you say and what color was it?”
Pilot 1: “It’s green, at about 7 o’clock now and I’d say about a mile and a half.”
Pilot 2: “United 330. We are now getting a laser at 10 o’clock, low now.”
Igor Strakhman said he heard the news while on his way to Newark to drop off his girlfriend for a flight.
“I find it to be childish and really mean and cruel to do, especially nowadays with everyone worried about terrorist attacks and everything like that,” he told CBS2’s Andrea Grymes.
No one was injured Wednesday night, but the glaring, green lights could potentially have horrible consequences, leaving a pilot at the plane’s controls temporarily blind.
“A pilot, for a short amount of time, can lose their night vision and become disoriented,” George Perry with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association told 1010 WINS’ Rebecca Granet. “You go from a very controlled, peaceful environment to this incredibly bright blooming effect.”
One commercial pilot told Aiello he suffered from blurred vision after getting zapped with a laser two years ago.
“You can suffer from flash blindness, after imaging, retinal burning; the retinal burning we experienced lasted several hours afterwards,” Robert Hamilton said.
Passengers at Newark Liberty told Grymes they were upset to learn about the danger.
“That’s actually pretty insane, pretty dangerous,” one person said.
The head of the Frankel told Aiello tracking down those responsible will be a difficult task. The agency may offer a reward to encourage people who know or saw something to say something.
“The best way for us to find who did this is by talking to the public, and the public giving us that information, because somebody out there knows what’s going on,” he said.
There were 23 additional laser strikes reported in 10 other states Wednesday night. Thankfully, despite thousands of laser incidents in recent years, no pilot has suffered lasting damage, and no aircraft emergencies were caused.
In May, five pilots reported that a green laser was pointed at their planes while flying over Long Island and New Jersey near John F. Kennedy Airport.
The planes were at about 8,000 feet when the FAA said the pilots said their planes were illuminated by the laser.
The NYPD’s Aviation Unit is using advance technology to tackle the problem.
They recently took CBS2 into the sky to show how high definition cameras can be used to pinpoint and arrest a suspect wanted for aiming a laser pointer into the cockpit of a passing plane.
Pointing a laser at a plane is a federal crime, punishable by thousands of dollars in fines or even prison time. Last year, a California man was sentenced to 14 years in prison, WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported.
Federal officials believe it’s only a matter of time before a laser strike causes an accident.