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FAA Investigating After Lasers Pointed At 5 Planes Near JFK Airport

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating after 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 first set of laser strikes happened between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Thursday near Bethpage State Park, about four miles northwest of Farmingdale, the FAA said.

The planes, an American Airlines, a Shuttle America and two Delta flights, were at about 8,000 feet when the FAA said the pilots said their planes were illuminated by the laser.

4 Pilots Say Laser Was Pointed At Planes Over Long Island

In an air traffic control recording archived on the website, one of the pilots can be heard reporting the incident.

Pilot: "Looks like some lasers coming outside now."

Air traffic control: "So it is coming up on the left side hitting the left side of the aircraft. OK, does it look like it's coming straight up or from a distance?"

Pilot: "No, I am not looking down at it. But it is lighting up the inside of the windshield here from the left side."

At first, the pilots thought it was coincidence, but quickly realized they were being targeted.

Pilot: "I thought it was just a rogue laser, but they were definitely aiming at us a couple of times. We saw it a couple of times into the cockpit."

No injuries were reported.

The FAA said it notified New York State Police about the incident. Troopers responded, sweeping the grounds of Bethpage State Park searching for a suspect.

Many parkgoers were in disbelief.

4 Pilots Say Laser Was Pointed At Planes Over Long Island

"It sounds like a childish prank," one man told WCBS 880's Mike Xirinachs.

"I can't understand why someone would do something like that," another man said.

The FAA is also investigating an additional incident in New Jersey late Thursday night.

FAA Investigating After 5 Pilots Say Laser Was Pointed At Planes Near JFK Airport

Around 11:30 p.m., a Sun Country Airlines flight reported a green laser hitting the plane when it was near Sandy Hook, about 14 miles southwest of John F. Kennedy International Airport, the FAA said.

Pilot: "There's a green laser on my left shoulder right now."

Air traffic control: "So it's like on the left side of the aircraft from where you are now?"

Pilot: "Affirmative."

No injuries were reported and the FAA said it notified New Jersey State Police.

Retired military pilot Col. Michael Canders, an instructor at Farmingdale State College's aviation center, said it's unusual to have so many laser strikes in one night affecting one airport.

"Five is of concern," he said. "Someone waiting in the landing pattern to just lase these aircraft really makes me wonder why. Is it one person doing this? Or is it a collection or a group doing this? But it's very important that they be found out and that they be held accountable because it is very dangerous."

FAA Investigating After 5 Pilots Say Laser Was Pointed At Planes Near JFK Airport

Lasers can injure or disorient pilots and pointing a laser at a plane is a federal crime.

"It's definitely of concern when you're flying out because your vision could be temporarily blinded by it," Stephen Weisbrot, an instructor with Venture Aviation in Farmingdale, told CBS2's Janelle Burrell. "It's of course a concern when you're flying at night when your eyes are more sensitive to light, but I assume as a knee-jerk reaction you would just be looking away."

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told CBS2's Jennifer McLogan he would look into stiffer penalties for these crimes.

"To try to impede a pilot flying a commercial flight with lots of people on it with a laser is wreckless, dangerous behavior," Johnson said.

Prison time and fines should be increased, said Canders.

Canders said he had the experience of being lasered with night vision goggles in the Air Force and told McLogan it basically blooms the cockpit a very bright light."It will cause at a minimum temporary blindness and the laser can damage the eye."

He also said he believed a laser could take down a plane if both pilots were incapacitated.

That almost happened two years ago to Suffolk County Police chopper pilots, McLogan reported.

"Inititally it is startling. Milliseconds go by until you realize, 'OK, we've just been lasered,'" said Officer Michael Smith with the Suffolk Aviation Bureau.

The NYPD has volunteered help from its latest weapon in crime fighting.

Profiled exclusively by CBS2 this month, a state of the art helicopter outfitted with technology so precise it can pinpoint a laser light and the facial features of the perpetrator from 200o feet in the air, McLogan reported.

So far no arrests have been made.

Last year, there were 37 laser incidents reported at LaGuardia Airport and 17 at JFK.

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