Pilots report 33 laser beam cases in Buffalo, Rochester

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – In the past three years, pilots have reported 33 cases of being targeted by a laser beam.

Officials highlighted the dangerous problem at a press conference Tuesday at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. These 33 cases have taken place in the 17 counties around Buffalo and Rochester.

The FBI is launching a $10,000 reward for information leading to a conviction. Aiming a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime.

“A lot of them are sold to be used as pet toys.” said NFTA Police Chief George Gast.”This one I just purchased for three dollars.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Brian Boetig says the little red dot sent through a laser beam gets much larger thousands of feet in the air.

“It’s the same as if you were in a dark room for a long time and your eyes became adjusted to the darkness, then somebody came in and started flashing a camera flash several feet away from your face. It’s very blinding, disturbing, it takes awhile for the pilot to be able to recover their night vision.”

As of 2012 there is a new federal law which specifically deals with shooting laser beams at planes. It carries up to five years in prison and carries up to a $250,000 fine.

“Oh I think it’s a wonderful idea by the FBI, it really is,” said Captain Kevin Caffery, Vice President of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association.

About four years ago he helped in the arrest of three men in Kaisertown who he says were lasing his Air One helicopter and a FedEX jet as it was coming for a landing.

In 2009, a FedEx plane was hit with a laser while landing at the Buffalo airport. Three men faced charges in that case, but were found not not guilty of reckless endangerment. A City Court Judge felt it couldn’t be proven that the suspects knew that what they were doing was putting lives in jeopardy.

“I know it’s extremely important that we catch these people that are doing it and get the word out how dangerous it is,” said Caffery.

FBI agent Boetig says a lot of it comes down to talking to the people on the ground.

“With a $10,000 reward, the possibility of having people come forward and turn in their neighbor or their friend is greatly increased by this program.”

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