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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) started an inquiry after 11 commercial planes were struck by what officials believe to be handheld lasers between 9:00 and 10:30 PM on Wednesday evening. The beams hit cockpits from both the left and right sides along with other parts of the planes, according to officials. Although there were no reports of injuries, and all aircraft landed safely, one pilot reported blurred vision after the flight, according to ABC News.
"This is an assault on a pilot as far as I'm concerned … It is a criminal matter. You're putting the lives of not just the pilot but everyone on the plane at risk," Rich Frankel, the FBI agent in charge of Newark, New Jersey, told ABC.
At least three of the incidents involved flights around 15 to 20 miles southwest of Newark Liberty International Airport. The rest occurred in the other parts of the state — from Robbinsville, near the Pennsylvania border, to Ocean City, along the Atlantic coast in the southeast of the state, according to the FAA.
Frankel noted that the FBI has yet to determine the precise location of the offending lasers.
"Its difficult [to identify the violator], again, just because of where the plane is, that the plane is moving at a certain speed, that it's a fixed location on the ground," he concluded.
Lasers can distract or even temporarily blind an aircraft pilot if the cockpit is targeted.
"Those who have been subject to such attacks have described them as the equivalent of a camera flash going off in a pitch black car at night," the Transportation Security Administration wrote in a statement on its website.
Pointing a laser at a plane is a federal crime that carries a maximum of five years of prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The FBI has launched a campaign to prevent such incidents, awarding up to $10,000 to those who report information about persons who intentionally target planes in this way.
Nonetheless, the number of so-called “laser attacks” on planes across the US is growing dramatically, media reports. According to the FAA, the figures have risen from 283 in 2005 to 3,894 in 2014. CNN reported that, on a given night, there is an average of 10.5 “laser attacks” on planes across the entire US, throwing New Jersey’s reported 11 on Wednesday into starling perspective.
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