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September 29, 2004
Lasers As Terror Weapons?

Michelle Malkin points her readers to this odd Washington Times story about a pilot whose retina was burned by in-flight exposure to a laser:

A pilot flying a Delta Air Lines jet was injured by a laser that illuminated the cockpit of the aircraft as it approached Salt Lake City International Airport last week, U.S. officials said.

The plane's two pilots reported that the Boeing 737 had been five miles from the airport when they saw a laser beam inside the cockpit, said officials familiar with government reports of the Sept. 22 incident. The flight, which originated in Dallas, landed without further incident at about 9:30 p.m. local time.

The pilot will apparently return to flight status in a week or so as the damage was not permanent, and with three flight officers on the plane, it would not have disabled the aircraft anyway. However, a spokesman for the pilot's union says that this is not the first incident of its kind:

"The Air Line Pilots Association has received reports in the past of incidents where lasers penetrated cockpits and, in at least one case, caused injury," Mr. Mazor said.

Several years ago, a pilot flying into a Western airport was hit by a light from a laser light show. The causes of the other incidents are not known, he said.

Asked whether a laser aimed at pilots could cause a plane to crash, Mr. Mazor said: "I think that's highly improbable. In every case in the past, the flights landed safely."

It seems unlikely to me as well. If you wanted to aim something at a plane to make it crash, a shoulder-fired SAM would be much more reliable. Navy Commander Jack Daly got permanently injured by laser exposure while flying a mission and warned Congress that terrorists could use this method to bring down planes without leaving any evidence. But terrorists usually want to leave evidence of their work; the whole point is to terrify people, after all. Terrorists not only desire recognition, they need it as part of whatever cause they're hoping to support with murder and terror.

It's more likely that the people playing with lasers aren't terrorists but malicious individuals trying to do damage in any way they can, or simply clueless nutcases who think it's funny. But either way, it holds little comfort to the men and women in the cockpit.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 29, 2004 5:16 AM

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