LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Lt. Steve Robertson with the Glendale Police Department’s Air Support Unit was on a nighttime patrol flight several years ago when he was struck by a powerful green laser.
“I was instantaneously blinded,” Robertson said. “I couldn’t see for probably 10 minutes, burning, just a very painful event.”
His co-pilot safely landed their helicopter, and Robertson was treated for corneal burns to both of his eyes. Since then, he’s been working to stop laser incidents targeting aircraft.
“It’s only a matter of time before somebody gets critically injured or eventually killed,” Robertson said.
Thursday, CBS2’s Rachel Kim reports, the FAA confirmed that the captain of a US Airways flight approaching LA from Phoenix suffered an eye injury from a laser strike early Wednesday morning. This is just part of a rising number of cases nationwide. Since the FBI and FAA began tracking laser strikes in 2005, there has been a more than 1,100 percent increase in reports. More than 3,900 were reported last year.
“The laser hits the glass or the Plexiglass, and it disperses that beam and the entire cockpit turns green,” Robertson said. “That might be enough to cause a crash.”
Robertson, who also teaches aviation safety at USC, encourages pilots to fly with their eyes on their instruments in the cockpit and to protect their eyes.
“We issue them glasses which negate the effects of the green lasers,” he said.
The FBI offers up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who aims a laser at an aircraft.
“We have enough resources out there that we will find you,” Robertson said.
Los Angeles is No. 5 on the list of cities nationwide from which laser strikes are reported. Glendale’s Air Support Unit has made 17 arrests over the past 18 months.
In 2012, a federal law made conviction of flashing lasers at aircraft punishable by up to five years in prison, and it also can carry a $11,000 fine.