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Number Of Laser Pointer Incidents Heads Toward All-Time High

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Tough new laws to punish those who direct laser pointers at aircraft are failing to stop the dangerous practice.

In fact, as Mike Schuh reports, the number of incidents is headed toward an all-time high.

Laser pointers are small, cheap and strong. In fact, a laser atop TV Hill was seen more than a mile away. But when shone into a cockpit, it can blind the pilots, making them unable to see their instruments or the ground.

"There was a bright light on the right side of the cockpit. The pilot said to me he thought he was getting lasered," said Maryland State Police medic Greg Lantz.

In fact, his chopper was targeted by a laser.

"The whole cockpit is lit up. Once it hits the cockpit, it convexes and it will shine across the whole cockpit," Lantz said.

They landed and arrested a 36-year-old man but his charges were later thrown out by a local prosecutor. Had the man struck the chopper after May of this year, a new federal law could have led to criminal federal charges.

Though there are new laws, it may be surprising to learn that the number of aircrafts targeted by laser pointers is at a level near that of all of last year.

Last year, 2,836 aircraft were struck. Through October, there have been 2,733. This means we're on track to have 800 more incidents this year because jetliners are on rigid pathways in and out of airports and can't circle to see who shone the light at them. Very few have been caught aiming at jets but police choppers can and do hunt down the culprits. Most apprehensions and convictions have come from police.

"It's a huge problem. To me, it's dangerous. I can cause someone to die, crash the aircraft, whatever, so even though it's fun, it's a huge problem. Find something on the ground to laser," Lantz said.

The federal fines if convicted of shining a laser pointer at an aircraft range from $11,000 to $250,000. On Thursday, there is a meeting in Washington to see what can be done about the problem.

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