The Federal Aviation Administration has launched an investigation after 11 commercial flights reported they were illuminated by lasers while flying over New Jersey.
The incidents occurred Wednesday between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., the FAA said in a statement Thursday. The lasers hit the left and right sides of the cockpits, along with the sides of the planes. There were no reports of injuries.
Lasers can distract or temporarily blind pilots. Pointing one at a plane is a federal crime.
It's is a dangerous prank that seems to be happening more and more, and it's to the point where one pilot NBC Chicago talked to thinks they need to start being regulated like weapons.
"It's frightening. It's really frightening," said commercial pilot Robert Mark, who has been flying for more than 40 years. "People don't realize it's a threat. People are doing this because they think they're being cute. They think they're funny. And they go, 'Look, I can shine a green light at the airplane,' and they don't even realize what the effect is."
Mark says the effect could one day be deadly, if the beam gets into the cockpit.
"Lasers are a big deal," Mark continued. "They're a flash in front of your face much like if someone took a camera and flashed it right in your eyes while you're driving. You're just instantaneously blinded."
"Think about that," Mark concluded. "If all these incidents had played out and we had 10 or 11 airplanes crash because of this, we'd be talking a much different story."
The FAA says at least three of the incidents involved flights near Newark Liberty International Airport. Porter 141 was at 3,000 feet 15 miles southwest of the airport; American Airlines 1472 was 20 miles southwest; and American Airlines 966 was at 3,000 feet, 15 miles south of Newark. Three flights were at 3,000 feet and were 4 miles south of the Outerbridge Crossing, which connects Perth Amboy to Staten Island, New York.
American Flight 348 was at 9,000 feet, headed to LaGuardia Airport. Two flights were over Monmouth County. Republic Airlines 4632 was at 9,000 feet, bound for Pittsburgh and United 330 was at 9,000 feet. JetBlue Flight 2779 did not report its location, and one aircraft reported it was hit by a laser over Ocean City, the FAA said.
As for local incidents: The Chicago Department of Aviation says since January 1 of last year, there have been 18 laser pointing incidents at Midway, and 13 here at O'Hare, but those numbers have not been confirmed by the FAA.