CRIME
11/24/2015 11:56 am ET

Pilot Suffered 'Military Strength' Laser Strike In Eye During Landing

The British Airways co-pilot was left partially blinded and unable to work.
The British Airline Pilots' Association revealed Tuesday that a British Airways pilot suffered a laser strike earlier this ye
Mark Wilson via Getty Images
The British Airline Pilots' Association revealed Tuesday that a British Airways pilot suffered a laser strike earlier this year that left him partially blinded.

A pilot for British Airways was left partially blinded and unable to work after a "military strength" laser beam was shone into his eye as he prepared to land an aircraft.

The co-pilot suffered a damaged retina in his right eye after the terrifying incident at Heathrow Airport in London earlier this year.

The British Airline Pilots' Association, or BALPA, revealed details of the event Tuesday, and claimed 50 percent of its pilots had been targeted by lasers while they were in the cockpit in the last 12 months.

In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration reported in October that 5,352 strikes had been documented in 2015 through Oct. 16, compared with 3,894 in all of 2014.

It's a massive increase since 2005, when just 300 were reported across America.

The use of "military strength" lasers rather than children's ones was a worrying development, BALPA's general secretary Jim McAuslan told The Times.

"It is on the black market, target-setters for weaponry. We are very concerned about it. These haven't been strong lasers [to date], but when something like this, which damages a man’s retina, comes on the scene then that really starts to worry us," he told the newspaper.

Laser strikes on pilots preparing to land are an increasing concern. More than 5,000 have been documented in the U.S. this ye
Andrew Holt via Getty Images
Laser strikes on pilots preparing to land are an increasing concern. More than 5,000 have been documented in the U.S. this year so far, compared to just 300 in 2005.

The British Airways pilot was treated at a hospital in Sheffield for his eye condition, according to the Independent. He has not flown since, and his case in now the subject of an employment tribunal.

A pilot for JetBlue suffered eye damage in 2012 after a laser was shone into the cockpit as he brought an aircraft in to land at New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport. The plane was flying at 5,000 feet over Long Island when the strike occurred.

People who carry out laser strikes in the U.S. face fines of up to $250,000 and up to 20 years in prison. The FBI piloted a reward program in 2014 that offered $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of "any individual who aims a laser at an aircraft."

In a recent interview with CBS News, airline captain Robert Hamilton -- who said he’s been the target of laser strikes on five different flights -- revealed what happened to pilots when they are struck.

"We suffered flash blindness, after-imaging and then retinal burning that continued on for a while," he told the network.

"We have to complete checklists, configure the aircraft, change our speed, change our pitch attitude, prepare the aircraft for landing or taking off, and at that moment to have our vision taken away from us which is the most critical phase of flight is a very serious safety risk," he added.

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