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FAA probes JetBlue laser incident over Suffolk

JetBlue aircraft sit on a Kennedy Airport tarmac.

JetBlue aircraft sit on a Kennedy Airport tarmac. (Jan. 29, 2008) Photo Credit: AP

The FAA is investigating the pointing of a laser into the cockpit of a JetBlue Airways flight over Suffolk County on Sunday night that caused vision problems for the pilot as the plane descended into Kennedy Airport, officials said.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said the pilots of JetBlue Flight 657 around 9 p.m. reported seeing a green laser light in the cockpit. The FAA notified law enforcement officials, and the FBI joined the investigation, an FAA spokesman said.

Suffolk police confirmed that they received a report about the laser, and a police helicopter was dispatched to the area of Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma but was unable to find the person responsible.

The first officer was at the controls at about 5,000 feet, heading from Syracuse to Kennedy, when the laser beam entered the cockpit, officials said. The first officer handed over control of the plane to the captain, who contacted controllers at the FAA's Westbury radar facility, officials said.

"We just got lasered up here," the captain said to air traffic controllers, according to an audio transmission on LiveATC.net, a website that posts air traffic communications. "Two green flashes into the cockpit. They've caught the first officer's eyes."

An air traffic controller acknowledges the captain and advises aircraft following Flight 657 to be on guard for laser flashes.

Later in the flight, according to LiveATC.net, the captain asks to have medical personnel meet his plane at the gate. "The first officer is having vision problems," he says.

A JetBlue spokeswoman declined to discuss the first officer's medical condition. The plane landed safely about 9:20 p.m.

A Port Authority official said the first officer was taken to Jamaica Hospital for treatment.

"The aircraft, an Embraer E190 with 80 customers, was not impacted and landed uneventfully," JetBlue said in a statement.

Lasers can temporarily blind pilots or interfere with their ability to safely handle cockpit duties, according to the FAA.

Under FAA regulations, pointing a laser at an aircraft from the ground could constitute interference with a crew member. The FAA has begun imposing fines of up to $11,000 in such cases.

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