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Lasers flashed at Salt Lake City International Airport planes

Published May 12, 2012 9:14 am

Crime • Pilots are able to land safely at Salt Lake airport; culprits could face prison time.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Federal and local law enforcement are investigating two incidents where lasers were flashed at the cockpits of aircraft, temporarily obscuring the view of pilots as they made their final approaches to land at Salt Lake City International Airport.

Airport spokesman David Korzep said Friday that police in West Jordan have been alerted and asked to help "catch the knuckleheads" who put the aircraft and their crews and passengers at risk.

Korzep said the incidents, during which a green laser was flashed into the cockpits of the planes, occurred shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday as the aircraft approached the airport from the south, about 13 miles out from the tarmac.

The first, at 9:45 p.m., involved a Southwest Boeing 737 flying 9,500 feet above the ground, Korzep said. "The second incident was at 9:57 p.m., involving a Lear Jet at 6,000 feet."

While the laser briefly "took out" visibility from the cockpits, it did not stop the pilots from landing safely, Korzep said. But he said the peril the incidents could have posed should not be dismissed.

"It's a crucial phase of flight, the final approach to your destination," he said. "This is a huge safety consideration."

West Jordan police spokesman Rich Bell said it is believed the lasers were pointed skyward from the general vicinity of the South Valley Airport, but officers found nothing suspicious Thursday night when they patrolled the area.

"We're keeping an eye on the area," Bell said. "We've had these [incidents] in the past and if they keep doing it, we have had some success in tracking them down. At this point, though, we don't have much information."

Korzep acknowledged the chance of hunting down laser culprits is generally a long shot. But if they are caught, they face serious trouble: a federal felony charge of interfering with a flight crew and up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, if convicted.

Laser-pointing at aircraft is a growing and national problem. The Federal Aviation Administration received more than 2,800 reports of lasers temporarily blinding pilots in 2011, almost double the number of such incidents logged in 2010.

remims@sltrib.com