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A man who sells commercial lasers for a living has been arrested in El Cerrito, after shining one of his laser pointers at a CHP helicopter, momentarily incapacitating the pilot, police said Monday.
It might seem like a harmless prank but the act of pointing a laser beam at an aircraft is dangerous and puts lives of passengers, crew members and people on the ground at risk.
Oakland International and Mineta San Jose International airports rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in the number of reported laser strikes on aircraft. Federal Aviation Administration data show those two California airports rank below only Chicago O'Hare, Los Angeles and Phoenix in terms of the frequency of laser strikes on airplanes and helicopters.
There have been 1,251 strikes reported on commercial aircraft in the United States in 2010.
On Tuesday, a green laser struck a San Jose police pilot and a Santa Clara County sheriff's aerial spotter during a routine helicopter patrol. They tracked the source to a house, where police ground units went and arrested two 22-year-old men. Quan Trung Nguyen and Ervin Guilermo Ancheta, both from Milpitas, were booked into jail on charges of intentionally pointing a laser at an aircraft in flight. They face federal felony charges and possibly prison time if convicted.
One San Jose officer says most people who shine laser pointers at aircraft aren't terrorists, but the devices blind pilots just the same.
Officials say the problem has grown significantly since the price of laser pointers has come down and the availibility has gone up. The devices have also become much stronger, making them even more dangerous.
Reports of inappropriate laser use have increased annually for several years, from about 300 in 2005 to more than 1,500 in 2010, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor told Bay City News.
Santa Clara County officials gathered with federal officials recently to pinpoint an effective way to combat the growing dangerous trend.
Aiming a laser at an aircraft is against state and federal law and violators could face fines and up to three years in prison.
Here's a clip of a Seattle pilot hunting down a person who pointed a laser at his aircraft.