Laser pointed at plane approaching Charlotte-Douglas for second time in 4 days

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the second time in just a matter of days, someone pointed a laser at a plane as it was approaching Charlotte-Douglas Airport, officials say.

"It acts like a flash -- almost like a flash in a dark car,” FBI spokeswoman Shelly Lynch said. “It can temporarily blind. It can disorient."

The incident comes as police are still searching for the person responsible for pointing a laser at a military cargo plane four days ago.

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In both cases, someone pointed a powerful green laser at a plane overnight.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the crew aboard a Delta flight out of Atlanta reported around 11:30 p.m. Sunday that a green laser illuminated the cockpit of the Boeing 717 as it approached Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

On Thursday, crews reported a green laser hit the left side of a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft cockpit around 11:15 p.m. when it was about 3,000 feet in the air and 12 miles north of the airport.

These cases are especially dangerous because takeoffs and landings are the most critical time of a flight.

There have been 19 laser strikes at the airport this year and 26 in the state.

Officials said 978 strikes have been reported across the state.

In 2018, there were 40 strikes at the Charlotte airport and 44 in 2017.

"What kind of a mind does it take to be doing that endangers a plane full of people?" passenger Joe Penta said.

Officers searched for the person responsible for last week's laser strike but were unable to make any arrests. Officials said it's difficult to identify suspects in these cases.

"They are in a high-workload environment, so safety concerns are that a pilot can have a lot of distractions when a lasing incident occurs,” said Lt. Col. Mike Lineburger, Air National Guard. “Also, it can create disruptions to their night vision."

Lineburger said the pilots did what they were trained to do and took evasive action.

Once the pilots reported the incident, the tower quickly informed other pilots.

According to Lineburger, a laser could be the cause of a pilot making a tragic mistake.

"Our main concern is don't look at the laser,” he said. “You just want to get your eyes inside and don't try and pinpoint the source."

The danger of a laser strike while a pilot is flying at a low altitude can't be overstated.

"It's not a game to have a laser to aim at an aircraft, because you could endanger a crew," he said.

The FBI typically offers up to $10,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone caught pointing a laser at a plane faces a felony and could spend five years behind bars.

"That is a very large area for us to look at for who might be responsible so one of the best tools we have is the public," Lynch said.

This is an ongoing investigation. Check back with wsoctv.com for updates.

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