KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A lot of people are travelling this weekend, and the FBI, Kansas City Aviation Department and Kansas City Police want to make sure a prank doesn’t lead to tragedy.
Pilots face all kind of danger in the air. The Kansas City Police Helicopter Section has added special visors they can flip down on their helmets because of a danger from the ground they really should never have to deal with — lasers.
“The beam doesn’t shine up and like you see in the movies, ‘Oh I’ve got a dot on my sleeve.’ That’s not how it looks to a pilot. It lights up the entire cabin and blinds everybody in the cabin,” Officer Darin Lutz said.
In 2010, there were 2,836 laser strikes reported across the United States compared with 6,852 laser strikes in 2020. And by October of this year, the number of laser strikes already had surpassed last year. In Kansas City, strikes on commercial aircraft are up 167% compared to the past year.
“It seems like lately the past couple years even we’ve been getting more calls from air traffic control, not just striking us but aircraft going into MCI also going into downtown and our EMS going in to local hospitals,” Lutz said.
When a laser attack is reported, police investigate from the air.
“It’s not just like a light hits us, and we don’t know where it’s at. If it hits us, we can follow it to its source,” Lutz said.
Lutz said he’d like to think people don’t realize the blinding effect lasers have on pilots — or the ramifications. Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense, carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
“Just don’t shine a laser at an aircraft. You never know who is on it. It could be a loved one you know. Even if it’s us up there, if you disorient an aircraft and they happen to go to the ground and crash they are going to hurt people on the ground as well,” Lutz said.
Police say if you see someone pointing a laser at an aircraft, dial 911. If you have information about a lasing incident, contact the Kansas City FBI Division at 816-512-8200.