Laser-Wielding Suspect Shines Beam at Aircraft, Gets Arrested

Phoenix police announced the arrest Tuesday of a person suspected of shining a laser beam at airplanes flying into Sky Harbor International Airport, as well as a police helicopter.

Common sense suggests this kind of crime could cause a full-blown catastrophe, though we're not aware of any case in which an aircraft in the country was downed because of laser light. Our unscientific guess is that such a crash would be a major fluke because the end of the beam wouldn't be steady enough to burn out the pilot's retinas.

A Web site that discusses the issue claims small devices like laser pointers are too weak to damage eyes, but that pilots could be distracted by a sudden flash on the windshield. This would obviously be a problem if your engines have been blown out by birds and you're trying to save the day, but pilots probably have to learn how to deal with sudden flashes and glare as part of their training.

Police plan to hold a news conference at 5:30 p.m. about the arrest, with commentary from one of the police air support unit members. 

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.