FBI wants help catching 'laser attackers' targeting aircraft
PORTLAND, Ore. -- There could be some money in it for you if you know someone who's flashed a laser pointer at a plane, helicopter or airport tower.
For the next 90 days, the FBI is offering up to a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.
It's part of the agency's awareness campaign about the danger that laser pointers pose; not just to pilots and air traffic controllers in the towers, but even people on the ground if a plane crashes.
That hasn't happened yet, but planes and helicopters, even a hospital chopper on a medical emergency, have had to be re-routed after being "lased" as pilots call it.
A few months ago, the FBI started the campaign in a dozen cities across the country. It worked, reports of laser attacks across the country went down.
They had been getting higher; from 300 in 2005 to almost 4,000 in 2013.
"It's usually young people horsing around," said FBI agent Edward Reinhold. "They're just not aware of the dangers."
Part of the campaign is aimed at a younger crowd, radio commercials and movie trailers that read "here's a pointer, aiming a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime."
A conviction can get you up to 20 years in prison, and a $250,000 fine.
The lights can cause temporary blindness in pilots, to where they can't even see the controls in front of them.
"What goes through your mind is, I don't even know if I can land this plane, the most important thing for a pilot is to be able to land the plane safely" said pilot Robert Hamilton who's had half a dozen encounters with the flashing laser lights.
Last October, a Portland man was arrested at PDX for attacking two flights at night.
Stephen Bukucs says he didn't do it. The case is still going on.
But Steve Johnson of The Port of Portland says the number of laser attack reports has gone down in the past couple of years at PDX.
"In 2012 they averaged about 12 a month. That number is down to two or three a month. But we still take that small number very seriously," Johnson said."That's why we're asking the public's help, to be good citizens," says FBI Agent John Kitzinger. "To report somebody who's engaging in this behavior, to avoid a catastrophe."The public can call their local FBI office or dial 911 if they have any information about a laser attack.