Laser Menacing Pilots Approaching Salt Lake

A green beam has greeted pilots flying into Salt Lake City International Airport this week, prompting a federal investigation into what agents believe could pose a safety threat.

Pilots reported a green laser hitting their cockpits twice Monday and three times Tuesday, according to airport police spokeswoman Barbara Gann.

The planes landed safely without any harm to the pilots, but investigators say the laser-pointing prank is no laughing matter. In September 2004, a Delta pilot suffered a retinal burn when the cockpit of a Boeing 737 was struck by a red laser about five miles from the Salt Lake City airport.

"We don't think this is very funny at all," said Patrick Kiernan, spokesman for the FBI in Utah.

The Federal Aviation Administration linked lasers to temporary blindness and disorientation in an October 2006 report. While cases of ocular injury are rare, FAA officials fear laser-pointers could someday cause a deadly distraction.

The federal agency reported 90 cases of laser strikes between January 2004 and January 2005. The FAA recorded one injury and no accidents.

FBI investigators haven't identified the perpetrators of this week's incidents at the Salt Lake City airport. They declined to say where the laser originated, but said it struck commercial and private airplanes as they approached the airport.

Kiernan urged anyone with information to contact the FBI's Salt Lake City office at 579-1400.

"Anytime you distract a pilot when he is landing a plane or taking off a plane, there can be significant and serious consequences," he said. "They have to be at the top of their game at those stages of the flight."

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