It was a cold crisp night last December; we had just been handed over to the Newark tower controller from New York approach control. It had been a long four-day trip and we just wanted to get on the ground so we could go home. I was working the radios and a few seconds after I had flipped the switch the radio crackled.
“Tower, HeavyJet 226 we were just lasered several times in a row.”
“HeavyJet 226, roger, can you identify the location?”
“It happened approximately niner miles south of Newark, I’m not too familiar with the area, but I see some docks and several buildings.”
“Is any one hurt?” the tower controller queried.
“Negative, there was only a few short quick bursts and we did not get a direct hit.”
“Copy, attention all aircraft on frequency be advised reported laser strike niner miles south of Newark on the ILS to 4 right. Repeat, laser strikes reported niner miles south of Newark on the ILS to 4 right.”
I glanced over at my First Officer and advised him to be cautious of where he is looking when we get there. We were probably number four in line for this exact same approach. Each aircraft in front of us reported the same thing.
“Green laser strike, same thing short burst, it looks like Perth Amboy area.” Another pilot exclaimed.
As we approached the same area, we cautiously looked for the laser and prepared to cover our eyes. At first I thought maybe the person stopped, but then there it was. A green laser pierced the night sky from the ground up. It quickly moved towards our aircraft. Noticing the movement I looked down and closed my eyes, but it was too late. The laser had come within feet of a direct hit. I hadn’t lost any of my vision, I could still see, but my eyes hurt and my vision was ‘glared’.
“Are you okay?” I asked my First Officer.
“Yes.” He replied.
“I think I got hit. I’m seeing a glare.” I clicked the push to talk button. “Tower, LinkJet 4316, we just got hit also.”
“Roger, was anyone injured?”
“It was close to a direct hit. I am seeing a little glare, but nothing serious.”
“Roger, you are cleared to land runway 4 right. Let us know if you need any assistance.”
“Negative on the assistance for now, cleared to land 4 right, LinkJet 4316.”
We touched down on runway 4 right without further incident. While we were taxing in to our gate the ground controller asked us to copy down a phone number for us to call once we got to the gate.
At the gate, I dialed the number on my cell phone, and the controller answered,
“Hi this is the Captain of LinkJet 4316, we were asked to call you, we were just lasered on final approach.”
“Is anyone hurt?”
“Negative, I was seeing a little glare, but it’s gone now.”
“Okay can you tell us more about it?”
“Sure, there were several short bursts and one long burst. It was a green laser, after looking at the map on my phone I can say it was definitely in Perth Amboy, just off the Raritan Bay.”
“Great, thanks we will file a report and let the local authorities know about it.”
I could hear quiet beeps on the phone, indicating that this was a recorded line.
“Okay thank you, do you need me to do anything else?”
“Nope that’s it, thanks for your help.”
I hung up my phone, grabbed my belongings and headed to my car. I later filed a report with my company and even followed up with my doctor to make sure that there was no damage to my eyes. My doctor cleared me even though I had still seen glares for a few weeks afterwards. He said it would go away eventually, just be glad you didn’t get a direct hit.
It was months later and I couldn’t stop thinking about this event. I started thinking about what could I do to help educate and stop these laser strikes. From what I have read most of the people behind the lasers have no idea of the potential damage they can cause, they just “want to see how far it will go.” It was then that I decided to form a non-profit volunteer group to educate the public and come up with new ways that we can help reduce or prevent laser strikes on aircraft.
I enlisted a few close friends and we formed a board. Our first order of business was our name. On March 29th of 2016, we started a weeklong board meeting, via text message group; first order of business was the name, we voted on Pilots Against Laser Strikes or PALs. We became an LLC on May 31st and hope to become a true non-profit within our first year.
To volunteer or donate please visit our website at www.pilotsagainstlaserstrikes.org.
Disclaimer: Names have been changed to protect the companies involved.