FBI: 2 Cleveland helicopter crews say lasers pointed at them flying over the city

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Two separate flight crews flying above Cleveland said they saw lasers pointed at their helicopters during the night of July 4. One was a Cleveland Division of Police Helicopter and the other was a MetroHealth Life helicopter.

According to Cleveland's FBI office, both crews encountered the lights at 10:15 p.m. from the 3000 block of West 31st Street, Cleveland, Ohio.

The main hazard for aviation is that pilots can be distracted or temporarily flash blinded by the light from a laser beam, endangering passengers. The light often is a large light at aviation distances, unlike the tiny dot a laser makes at close range. Individuals often do not realize that traveling over hundreds of feet a tiny 2-centimeter laser beam spreads to become approximately 6 feet of light that can block a pilot's vision. 

"A lot of people may think it is funny, you are playing with your cat with a laser pointer and you decide to flip it up into the sky because there's a helicopter flying over, that light actually expands at further distances. It may be 2 centimeters on the ground, but when you put it in the sky it can get as big as 6 feet in diameter," said Vicki Anderson from the FBI.

What you think may be funny, is illegal and could have serious impacts.

"If I'm in a critical phase in the flight like take-off or landing, or to hover, that can lead to an accident because I can no longer see," said Bryan Bly, the lead pilot for MetroHealth's Life Flight. 

He said about once a month one of the pilots is hit with a laser light.  All it takes is for a simple laser light like this to flash into the pilot's eyes, he or she could be blinded for 15-20 seconds.

"When you get hit head-on with that light, it's almost explosive what it does to the cockpit. It is so bright, so disorienting, you really honestly cannot see," Bly explained.

Laser strikes are investigated by local and federal law enforcement. If caught, people pointing the laser can be fined up to $11,000 and face jail time.

If you have any information about last week's laser strikes call the Cleveland Division of the FBI at 216-522-1400.  Tips can remain anonymous and reward money is available.

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