Feds investigate laser pointing at plane approaching Juneau airport

A passenger jet lifts off from the Juneau International Airport. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Landing a plane in Juneau is a hard enough job, and the task got even more difficult for one plane Wednesday night.

 

As an aircraft came into Juneau International Airport just before 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, somebody in Juneau pointed a high-powered laser at the plane and it shone into the cockpit. Deputy Airport Manager Marc Cheatham said he wasn’t sure where the plane was coming from or how many passengers were on board, but the plane landed safely.

“Never point a laser at an aircraft,” Airport Manager Patty Wahto said in a release. “You can blind a pilot and endanger everyone’s life in the aircraft.”

Alaska Airlines spokesperson Ann Johnson confirmed that the plane was an Alaska Airlines 737, and that it was coming from Yakutat. It had 32 passengers on board, she said.

More than likely, Cheatham said, this act was intentional. He’s been told by Federal Aviation Administration officials that the laser likely wasn’t a small one. He said that the plane was at about 1,000 feet and preparing for landing when the laser shined into the cockpit. This lit up the entire cockpit, Cheatham said, effectively blinding the pilots as they were positioning themselves for their final approach.

Pointing a laser at an airplane is not only dangerous, but it’s also a federal offense. The incident this week is currently under federal investigation. If the person who did it is found, he or she could be fined and even imprisoned. Cheatham said the penalty could be up to five years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

In July 2015, an Alaska Airlines flight from Juneau to Seattle experienced the same issue, as someone pointed a laser at the cockpit. That plane also landed safely, with 70 passengers and five crew members on board.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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