HONOLULU(KHON2) –The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating two laser strikes on airplanes over Hawaii. Both incidents happened Wednesday, July 14 at night.
Thousands of laser strikes happen every year. While pointing a laser at a plane from land may seem harmless, it’s a serous offense and can put the lives of everyone on the plane, and the community below it, in danger.
The first laser strike was reported by Hawaiian Airlines over the Northeast side of O’ahu around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. According to the FAA, the plane was at roughly 8,500 feet when it was illuminated by a purple laser.
In a statement, Hawaiian Airlines said:
“Flight HA9 with service from Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL) was approximately 7-10 miles offshore from east O’ahu toward its descent to HNL when our pilot saw a ground laser flash about three times. HA9 landed without incident and our pilot reported the incident to air traffic control and the FAA. Pointing lasers at an aircraft is a serious federal offense that can potentially affect flight operations, especially during takeoff and landing, in addition to posing health risks to crewmembers. “
The FAA said the second strike happened over Hilo around 9:40 that night. The crew of Aloha Air Cargo Flight 550, reported a blue laser on their approach to Hilo International Airport.
The FAA is investigating both incidents.
United Airlines Boeing 777 Captain Christopher Behnam said laser strikes are very dangerous for the cockpit crew.
“It gives a pilot and a startled-effect,” he explained. “Once illuminated in the cockpit, it could blind the pilots momentarily.”
There were 2,034 laser strikes reported nationwide between January and April this year — 32 of them in Hawaii. Last year there were 6,852 total and 97 in Hawaii, up from 6,136 and 73 the year before.
Behnam said laser illuminations usually happens at night, during a critical phase of the flight, when planes are below 10,000 feet.
“It happened to me,” he said. “We were on a downwind leg and turning left towards the runway to go land. We are a couple of 1000 feet off the off the ground. I got hit by green laser, which is one of the worst lasers that could do damage to the eyes. And I basically couldn’t see anything. Fortunately for me, I was able to give the airplane to the copilot. He continued the approach.”
He couldn’t fly for several days and he had to get checked-out by a doctor to ensure his eyes weren’t permanently damaged.
“We, as pilots, are trained to fly those jets and keep it safe,” he said. “Anything that mechanically goes wrong with it, we are trained to deal with that. But we are not really trained to deal with being blinded and not being able to fly the airplane.”
They are given tips on what to do in the event of a laser strike. Since they never know when they will occur, and they are in the cockpit exposed by the large windows, it’s difficult to be ready for it.
“If you experience laser illumination in the cockpit, you know, just put your head down,” Behnam said. “Don’t look at it. Don’t try to focus on it. Turn your head away. Put your head down and increase the light in the cockpit. Immediately report it to the air traffic control, which in turn, they will report that to the appropriate agencies. In this case it is the FAA.”
He had one message.
“Just imagine your loved one is on that aircraft and not mess with it,” Behnam said. “If you blind a pilot on a critical phase of flight on takeoff or landing, it could cause an accident, and a lot of people are going to die.”
Shining a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.