TAMPA, Fla — Back-to-back laser strikes in Tampa.
“Oh, there it is, right from the river,” a pilot can be heard over the radio.
“We’re getting laser struck out here just west of the field,” said another pilot.
“Once the laser it’s the windshield refracts and creates this large flash in the cockpit,” said Chris Shepherd, the Chief Pilot for Tampa Police Department’s Aviation Unit.
He says those lasers were pointed at their choppers and one was also pointed at a passenger airplane with hundreds of people on board.
“If it hits the eye correctly I can actually do damage to the eye and at that point, the pilot would have to receive medical care,” he said.
“The pilot’s often forced to look away or to duck down or do maneuvers that are not what we would want a pilot to typically be doing when they’re in control of an aircraft,” said Michael O’Harra, the Regional Administrator for FAA’s southern region.
It creates an incredibly dangerous situation for folks in the air and on the ground.
“It’s happening a lot here in Tampa. It goes in waves, we’ll have a period where we won’t have any strikes and then it will pick up,” Shepherd said.
There have been 458 laser strikes in Florida this year and 56 in Tampa alone — making it the second-highest city in Florida in reported laser strikes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. O’Harra says nearly half of the 56 were aimed at aircraft below 3000 feet.
“That’s obviously a critical phase of flight when pilots need to be focused on getting those airplanes up and out of the airport safely or perhaps making their final approach to the airport,” he said.
It’s why consequences are so steep. If you point a laser at an aircraft it’s considered a felony and can cost you $11,000 in FAA fines, even more, if you point at multiple aircraft. You could also face up to five years in prison.
“Inside we have our display screen and this is our hand controller for the camera,” Shepherd said, as he showed off the inside of TPD’s helicopter.
The technology inside allows pilots like Shepherd and his team the ability to catch folks who do it.
“We can follow it right down directly to the person who has the laser in their hand,” he said.
The FAA has handed out $120,000 in fines this year. You can also report laser strikes to the FAA here.