JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Federal Agents with the FBI on Wednesday launched a national campaign targeting people who have been shining laser lights at airplanes and rescue helicopters.
The laser lights, which are supposed to be used for hunting rifles or on construction projects, can blind a pilot in the cockpit and put passengers' lives at risk.
The penalties are severe and could include federal prison time.
The lasers can be effective from more than a mile a way. Federal agents says the number of pilots reporting it happening has more than doubled over the last few years.
"I don't think people understand the affect on the pilot," said Michelle Klimt, who's in charge of Jacksonville's FBI Bureau on the Southside. "It can be blinding and makes them not see the instruments."
Klimt said the FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Already this year, 24 pilots have reported having a laser light shined into their cockpit -- one in Pensacola, two in Ormond Beach, two in Jacksonville and 19 in Daytona Beach.
"If you see it, please report it," Klimt said. "We're trying to get a handle and tell the public it's a violation of federal law."
"I think the word has been put out for many years now," said aviation attorney Ed Booth.
Booth said this is the second time the FBI has tried to raise public awareness about this life-threatening issue. He said far too often the perpetrators don't realize the seriousness of the crime until it is too late.
"I think one message that they're getting across is that they can identify these people," Booth said. "People think they'll never find me: 'I'm in a neighborhood somewhere and they can't track me down.' But police have proven they can locate the source of these."
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