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Laser strikes hit record high

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport has seen the most laser strikes with 139 this year, but it is a nationwide problem.
Dangerous laser strikes against airplanes could set record 02:55

Laser strikes are set to hit a record high this year. Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport has seen the most with 139 this year, but it is a nationwide problem. The FBI announced this weekend that five strikes were reported in the Cleveland area during the Labor Day weekend alone.

Laser pointers that can be easily picked up from a drug store are responsible for more than 1,750 hits on planes nationwide in just three months -- nearly half of what they saw in all of last year, reports CBS News' Kris Van Cleave.

The FAA is seeing a massive summer spike in the dangerous phenomenon -- people pointing high powered green lasers at planes, often during take-off or landing.

An FBI demonstration shows how the bright light can temporarily blind pilots.

"We suffered flash blindness, after-imaging and then retinal burning that continued on for a while," pilot Robert Hamilton said.

Hamilton is an airline captain who said he's been lasered on five different flights.

"We have to complete checklists, configure the aircraft, change our speed, change our pitch attitude, prepare the aircraft for landing or taking off, and at that moment to have our vision taken away from us which is the most critical phase of flight is a very serious safety risk," Hamilton said.

Ophthalmologist Dr. Robert Cykiert said that damage could be permanent.

"Certainly if a pilot has a retina burn and there's permanent damage, they're not going to be able to be a pilot anymore," Cykiert said.

So far this year there've been more than 3,700 reported incidents, averaging over 16 per day.

CBS News bought a laser pointer online for about $50. At night you can see just how intense the green lights can be. We stood on a golf course, and 500 yards down, it easily hit the pin on the 17th green.

"This is a very dangerous thing to do, where you're interfering with air navigation, there's significant penalties that go along with that and we will find you," FAA administrator Michael Huerta said.

Laser strikes are up 10-fold since 2006. So far this year the FBI said it's opened 28 investigations into laser strike incidents.

FBI deputy assistant director Chris Warrener believes its only matter of time until a laser strike causes an aviation accident.

"When it happens, it's endangering the lives of passengers on the plane people on the ground and of course the pilot," Warrener said.

CBS News asked the FAA if they were working on anything to protect the pilots. They said at this point they are looking into it, but any technology like glasses for the pilots remains cost prohibitive and challenging to implement.

If anyone is caught doing this it's actually a felony -- typically offenders can face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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