JOHNSON COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) – More than half a dozen commercial airliners and a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter all reported being hit by a laser beam while traveling over Johnson County Tuesday night. The person believed responsible was quickly found and taken into custody.
Tuesday night pilots about to land at Dallas/Fort Worth International, Dallas Love Field and Alliance Airports all reported that a green-colored laser had lit up their cockpits.
Officials with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office say Austin Siferd could face federal charges for pointing the laser. The 23-year-old man reportedly admitted pointing the laser at the planes, but claimed he didn’t know the device was strong enough to reach the aircraft’s.
Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mike Powell says Siferd should have known better and investigators aren’t accepting his excuse. “It’s common and everybody’s aware of it… at concerts, at football games, sporting events. They’re [laser pointers] against the law,” he said. “It’s been in the media. There’s been plenty of public information out there warning people against this and the dangers of it. So, he will be held responsible for his actions.”
In all, DFW Air Traffic Control reported there were seven incidents involving the laser being pointed at aircraft.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesperson Lynn Lunsford says the perpetrator did not discriminate and lit up cockpits as the pilots were on their final approach. He said some of the affected flights included, “A FedEx flight, an American Airlines flight, an American Eagle, [and] Southwest Airlines… so they were pretty much hitting anything that came over.”
Lunsford said all of the planes were able to land without incident, but “It was enough of a concern that air traffic controllers actually began routing flights away from that area.”
After officials were notified, the Texas Department of Public Safety sent a helicopter to the area to investigate. Deputies say Siferd then pointed the laser at the DPS chopper. But that wasn’t the smartest move; because it was then that officials say troopers traced the beam and located Siferd at a private residence.
When Sheriff’s Office deputies got the house, in a rural part of Johnson County, they were met by three people who said they were all asleep and didn’t know anything about any incidents involving a laser. Officials say one of those people was Siferd and when he realized the DPS helicopter filmed the incident and pinpointed where the light came from asked to speak with a Corporal privately. Siferd then reportedly gave the laser to deputies and admitted that he had been using it to point at aircraft.
Siferd is being held on a misdemeanor charge of Illumination of Aircraft by Intense Light, but could soon have more serious legal issues since federal agents are on their way to Johnson County to question him. His bond for the state charge was set at $300.
Officials say there is a nationwide problem of people pointing lasers at airplanes. Also Tuesday night, four pilots reported laser strikes over New York and New Jersey. One of the planes, an American Airlines flight en route from Charlotte, North Carolina, was flying at an altitude of 3,000 feet when it got hit by a green laser.
Aviation analyst Charles Feldman says, “These lasers are ubiquitous. They’re not expensive to buy, so they are spreading and if you look at figures all across the country you’ll find that in the past few years there has been a growing number of incidents.”
According to the FAA, there were 3,894 reported laser strikes in 2014, up from 283 in 2005.
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