Lasers endanger SA planes

2011-03-01 09:07

Johannesburg - Pilots who were preparing to land a passenger jet on Sunday evening had to look away from the runway and rely only on their instruments after people on the ground pointed lasers at the plane.

This is one of over 70 incidents over the past 10 months in which laser beams have been used by people on the ground to illuminate passenger jets.

The beams can blind pilots and put the lives of passengers in danger, said Captain Margaret Viljoen, an executive committee member of the Airline Pilots Association of South Africa (Alpa) on Monday. Alpa represents about 2 000 pilots.

Viljoen was the victim of this dangerous new trend when she was piloting a Kulula flight (MN 455) from Lanseria airport in Johannesburg to Cape Town on Sunday night.

Green laser beams

Viljoen and her co-pilot were at about 800 feet (about 233 metres) and were ready to land when they noticed a green laser.

"The person with the laser looked for us in the air. We switched off all the outside lights so that he couldn't see us," said Viljoen.

"My first officer moments later saw four laser beams. They found us when we came close to the runway.

"We were prepared and didn't look outside at all. We only used our instruments to land."

Viljoen says the problem with laser beams is that if they are shone in pilots' eyes they can temporarily blind them to such an extent that they can't see where to land. Pilots can also sustain permanent eye damage.

In an incident at Lanseria, two pilots were blinded so badly that after landing they couldn't see the man who signalled where to park the plane.


Viljoen said pilots in South Africa have been lucky so far in that no one has sustained permanent eye damage and that there have been no accidents related to this.

The worst that has happened is that pilots have walked around with blurred vision for a few hours to a few days.

According to Viljoen, this new danger started about a year-and-a-half ago, but she started keeping a record of the incidents 10 months ago. The laser was presumably used for pointing out stars.

Viljoen said a Durban man was arrested last year for pointing a laser at a police helicopter.

"If people aren't stopped, it could lead to serious incidents," she said.

  • Tchaik - 2011-03-01 09:12

    Some people are just plain (excuse the pun) idiots!

  • kleinkoppi - 2011-03-01 09:14

    Why would anyone try and do that, are they going to get off at the site of a plane crash...

      lmduplessis - 2011-03-01 09:34

      Sadly, there are quite a few ppl like that. They are usually the ppl around who pets slowly get lost.

      jweer42 - 2011-03-01 12:07

      Same reason they throw boulders into traffic off a bridge ... they like causing misery.

  • 24newsreader - 2011-03-01 09:23

    what idiots

  • Gorilla - 2011-03-01 09:25

    I thought planes landed by computer and the pilots were there to make sure all systems operated within the boundaries of safety?

      lmduplessis - 2011-03-01 09:33

      Maybe in america where they have money to put all those fancy gadgets in the planes. But there is still no substitute for a human pilot, ESPECIALLY when landing.

      Felix - 2011-03-01 09:34

      I thought all pilots wore 'Top Gun' sunglasses while flying?

      Gunner - 2011-03-01 09:35


      Tchaik - 2011-03-01 09:39

      Please read the FULL article...

      Claudio - 2011-03-01 09:56

      Gorilla - and your point is??? - so what if they shine a laser into pilots eyes. Most of the landings are done manually and autolands are only done in poor visibility - it is extremely dangerous to do this to aircrew - for the safety of the aircraft as well as the eyesight of the crew - regardless of whether an autoland is being flown or not

      kaMazibuko - 2011-03-01 10:15

      @Gorilla, thats exactly why the piolts said they relied on their instruments....these are very precise but like Imduplessis says 'there is still no substitute for a human pilot' try reading the article fully b4 making comments like this

      nosiphom - 2011-03-01 10:27

      Gorilla, if you knew anything about flying whatsoever, you would know that the most dangerous situations in flying are takeoff and landing. Those are the situations where pilots really pilot the plane. Once cruising @ 10 15 km above ground they normally set the plane to autopilot and monitor instruments and deal with certain extreme situations - turbulances, storms, etc. Instrument landing is for conditions of bad visibility, and must be stressful - I'm sure you have never driven around the DRakenberg area on a misty night otherwise you would know very well how stressful it is.

      roamingwolf17 - 2011-03-01 10:31

      ignorant idiot

      clint1980b - 2011-03-01 10:35

      @Felix...and when they land at night????? DUMBASS !!!!

      Fanie - 2011-03-01 10:59

      Auto mated landing has been with us for years - but some air ports does not have it - even in the states. But that is irrelevant - it is moronic to do this

      Alfred - 2011-03-01 11:00

      I think Gorilla is getting unnecessarily lambasted for simply asking a question. Not all planes, especially small ones, have autopilot and not all airports and runways have ILS which the autopilot can be set to track. Instrument landings and landings where the ILS is engaged on the autopilot are not the same thing. A crew will still be able to land a plane manually without autopilot at night or in bad weather, they just rely on their instruments instead of visual cues from looking outside. The people with the lasers most likely don't have bad intentions and don't know how dangerous it is but imagine driving a bus with a hundred odd people on board at 300kph at night and having some arseh*le shine his brights in your face.

      johane254 - 2011-03-01 11:04

      @Felix, LOL - cool one, man. Excellent humour. @Clint1980b - you're the dumbass - freaking no sense of humour.

      Gorilla - 2011-03-01 11:06

      You guys are seriously in need of some TLC. What is it with everyone that they seem to react with an attack anytime a simple question is asked?? I did not disagree with the fact that it's dangerous - I merely asked a question that related to the article. you guys need some help. Peace.

      jweer42 - 2011-03-01 12:07

      Suprise!!! :p

      Barry M - 2011-03-01 15:19

      Felix - You are a real chump - probably got turkey DNA in your make up!

  • wjacques.mouton - 2011-03-01 09:35

    I was on a Kulula flight 2 weeks ago and saw the lazer. Thought it was funny at that stage. But now its pretty scary!

  • timgregorysa - 2011-03-01 09:38

    This is so stupid! I really can't believe that people think it's ok to shine laser at planes. I have a green laser that I use for pointing out stars and I would hate for them to be banned because of this

  • Frank - 2011-03-01 09:56

    They should equip the planes with targeted reflectors or lasers themselves and direct them at the source.

      shortcut - 2011-03-01 10:10

      or equip the plane with weopons so that they can shoot at the source.

      lmduplessis - 2011-03-01 10:44

      or perhaps some of that one-sided glass material the astronauts use to reflet lot of sunlight from their eyes.

      jweer42 - 2011-03-01 12:10

      @shortcut Yeah!! Mini-guns with tracer rounds ... you can see your progress as you fly along :p

      Barry M - 2011-03-01 15:22

      Couple of hellfire missiles ought to do the trick!

      4daluvofSA - 2011-03-01 15:36

      ...or put mirrors under the plane so that the light can reflect back to the source. ;-)

  • Neo - 2011-03-01 10:01

    There should be a hefty fine or jail term attached to this type of action. Many lives can be lost due to this!

      Alfred - 2011-03-01 10:36

      'm not sure what the penalty is in SA but in the States it's taken very seriously and the FBI is often involved in tracking down the individual. It's possible to serve up to 25 years in prison or pay up to $500 000 in fines for interfering with a commercial airliner.

      gary.gecko - 2011-03-01 11:27

      How about charging the culprit with as many cases of attempted murder as there were people in the plane. That should make people think twice. He/she WAS trying to crash the plane and kill the passengers and crew, after all...

  • john - 2011-03-01 10:05

    It's fair to say that a fairly large chunk of any population is effectively brain-dead. I remember when it snowed in Joburg in 1981, some people were out on the streets of Hillbrow throwing snowballs at passing bikers. So not only are the bikers having to deal with ultra-slippery roads, they're also getting pelted with snowballs. Asking some people to consider the safety of others is just unreasonable, it seems.

  • Eric West - 2011-03-01 10:08

    Unbelievable stupidity!!!

  • Nesomaniac - 2011-03-01 10:15

    Those delinquent a***holes must be put away for a very long time - their idiotic 'pranks'(??) are tantamount to attempted, premeditated murder.

      lmduplessis - 2011-03-01 10:45

      Not murder. Mass murder, Destruction of property on a grand scale and we can probably throw some Terror charges into the mix as well.

      4daluvofSA - 2011-03-01 15:39

      You would never know maybe it's your kids playing outside your house while you are watching noot vir noot.

  • IrishLuck - 2011-03-01 10:25

    The security levels at airports worldwide are so tight these days, even the most innocent of things said in jest have led to dire consequences. Surely this should be considered as a form of terrorism when the lives of passengers and crew are endangered and not just a 'game' as suggested in the headline.

      clint1980b - 2011-03-01 10:38

      Because they need not be in the airport grounds to do this. Just a direct line of sight to the plane, from any hill, viewpoint, building etc.

  • Brian - 2011-03-01 10:28

    It's relatively simple to make a 'corner' reflector from a few mirrors. A corner reflector will reflect the light directly back to the source regardless of the angle of the incoming beam. Give the laser holder the fright of his life when the laser light bounces straight back!!! I have never heard of anything so irresponsible or downright dangerous! My respect to the flight crew for dealing with the flight-deck intrusion and safely landing the plane(s).

  • Jim - 2011-03-01 10:29

    Anyone caught doing this should be sentenced to 500 hours community service in the state hospitals. (just a pity that it couldn't be enforced)

      clint1980b - 2011-03-01 10:36

      Only 500? How about 500 hours / person endangered on the flight in question.

  • spiderkzn - 2011-03-01 10:30

    why that laser are selling that it dont supposed to sell to public?

      KevinSA - 2011-03-01 11:05

      English please.

      rob4e - 2011-05-04 17:57

      Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like? lol @ english fail

  • Broombastic - 2011-03-01 10:31

    Publishing this story will probably make MORE people start doing this. Definitely not deter the few that are already "playing"

  • Crispy_Duck - 2011-03-01 10:38

    That's one hell of a strong laser pointer...

      rob4e - 2011-05-04 17:58

  • Cynical Sci - 2011-03-01 10:38

    Am I missing something? What is the point of this "game"?

      lmduplessis - 2011-03-01 10:47

      being a complete friggin moron, apparently.

  • Talitha Taljaard - 2011-03-01 10:45

    How bored must you be to think that this is a fun way to spend the evening? What's wrong with these people?!

  • Johan - 2011-03-01 10:49

    Note that laser devices are listed electronic devices according to the Hazardous Substances Act, and it is therefore illegal to inter alia import or to use them unless they have been licensed. Laser pointers are generally safe when used by adults, such as teachers and lecturers, to highlight areas of interest. However, these products are being increasingly marketed as childrens' toys. They are being sold in toy and novelty stores and can be purchased over the Internet. Many of them are low cost, operated with AAA batteries and produce a red or a green beam that can be easily seen hundreds of meters away yet are small enough to be carried in a pocket or on a key chain. These devices are not toys and they never should be shown onto people’s eyes. Accidental exposure to a laser power level of less than 5 mW us usually not hazardous but for higher power levels even brief accidental exposure of the eye to the direct beam may cause serious eye injuries. The higher the power of the device the greater the risk of injury. The extent and severity of any eye injury arising from an exposure to the laser beam will depend upon several factors including the radiant power entering the eye and the duration of the exposure.

      tstander - 2012-03-01 12:12

      Another hazard, Johan, is that the green lasers emit a significantly stronger near-infrared component. You can't see it, but it can still do significant damage.

      marius.dumas - 2012-03-01 21:50

      @tstander. I disagree with you. Infra in Latin means “below”, infra red means a electromagnetic wave frequency lower than red light or lower than visible light. It is invisible to the human eye. Infrared lasers produce wavelengths between 780 nm and 1550 nm depending on the structure and chemical elements. Laser diodes create monochromatic-uniformly polarised light which means it has a extremely narrow spectrum. An green laser (532 nm) only produce green light and nothing else. There are no infrared, and no hidden energies. Throughout the distribution of laser diodes, there is no indication that green lasers are manufactured in higher power units as a rule. However from the popular higher power pointers I have seen, green appears more popular. But there is not reason to say that green lasers are more powerful than red ones. In all colours I have seen pointers from 5mW to 1000mW However 50mW lasers are popular in green and they are capable of creating immediate damage to the eye. if the beam is produced though a 1mm window, it will be about 80 times stronger than direct sun light, while popular key-ring lasers which are mostly only 5mW will provide about 8 times direct sun light though a 1mm window. So I agree that they can cause harm to your eyes but completely disagree with your statement that green lasers produce infrared components and I disagree that green laser light significantly more harmful.

  • Pavanasen - 2011-03-01 10:49

    Some people are true dummies!!! This is not a cool thing to do!

  • Jan - 2011-03-01 10:52

    Maybe somebody should find a way to enable the pilots to empty the plane's toilets on these idiots.

  • Fanie - 2011-03-01 10:58

    Clearly they ahve been born in the shallow end of the gene pool - and some one has wee'd in it

  • Totman - 2011-03-01 11:09

    I once stopped a little boy from trying to see if his little laser can reach a police helicopter that was patrolling and pass-by. I explain to him that they can think it is a laser guided gun and shoot at him. Is this not due to people do not know that these lasers can reach so far or that they can blind people? How far can these cheap laser show? Were these the normal cheap ones or stronger? Can some-one with the proper knowledge please help!!! I do not think most of these people do it with a bad intension. A lot of people, on these comments, make out if the whole world is bad and wants to do bad things. You and me knows, but not all does. We should rather ask for the media to inform people in all forms of publication. It should have been done months ago, when these problems start occurring.

  • juan.coetzee - 2011-03-01 11:32

    At the U2 concert a few weeks ago there were also a couple of these clowns doing the rounds with laser pointers who thought they were hilarious, by pointing them at the stage and generally messing with the lighting of the show. These pointers should just be banned. They fulfill absolutely no important function, and people showing infantile behavior with them should get them shoved up their @rses so far, they need a proctologist to remove them.

  • TDJ - 2011-03-01 11:36

    Equip the plane with a camera, linked to GPS, to pinpoint the laser origin _exactly_...

  • Soothsayer - 2011-03-01 11:56

    They deserve a dungeon for this henious act

  • brianR - 2011-03-01 13:12

    and here i thought everyone used these pointers to drive their cats crazy???

      Barry M - 2011-03-01 15:30

      I drive my cats f*cking nuts with my laser pointer!

  • Flinger - 2011-03-01 15:36

    This is an easy one if we one day get a police force who can send detectives out to many laserbeams are purchased to point out stars??? There can only be a handfull of suppliers right? Check the purchase records...a few camera's on the date of purchase and voila..a suspect list...that or give passengers free lasers to point back from the plane. Ya, i do like watching CSI

      TheDuck - 2011-03-02 08:38

      It's now the Police SERVICE.

  • boxer1266 - 2011-03-01 17:10

    These idiots should have their fingers ripped off and the same laser pointed at them permanently and then dragged before the courts and given a hefty sentence!

  • martiens1 - 2011-03-01 17:40

    Idiots arrest the bastars,lock them up for ever

  • A THEIST - 2011-03-02 07:32

    Primitive landing aids !

  • preshengovender69 - 2011-03-02 08:42

    why didn't they use auto pilot

  • Allin - 2011-03-10 20:23

    From what I was told over a PA on four planes over a space of 3 days even a iPOD endanger SA planes. Really time we buy tougher planes

      HowardX - 2011-05-04 18:26

      Well that's just nonsense. There is no conceivable way that an iPod could affect the operation of a plane.

  • mlondozi - 2012-03-02 04:26

    I really hope that an immediate solution is found. Perhaps the various airline companies can buy protective eye wear for the crew flying the planes.

  • pages:
  • 1