Pilots Contend With Record Number of Laser Strikes, F.A.A. Says
One foggy night in December 2018, David Hill was trying to land a helicopter when a beam of light suddenly overwhelmed his night vision goggles.
Mr. Hill, an emergency services pilot, had been called to airlift a teenager who had been badly injured in an all-terrain vehicle crash from a village 35 miles north of Madison, Wis.
But now, Mr. Hill was temporarily blinded.
Flying about 500 feet above the ground, he tried to get his bearings. It was “like looking into the sun, and all I can see are bright spots,” he recalled.
A person had pointed a laser at his helicopter. From 2010 to 2021, close to 70,000 pilots reported similar episodes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Last year it recorded more than 9,700 cases, a record high, and a 41 percent increase from 2020.
When a laser pointer reaches a cockpit, the light can disorient or “completely incapacitate” a pilot, who on a commercial airplane could be responsible for hundreds of passengers, the F.A.A. said. Some commercial flight paths have been disrupted, causing pilots to change course or even turn around.
“What you might see as a toy has the capacity to momentarily blind the crew member,” Billy Nolen,…