KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Keith Holcomb remembers the moment 10 years ago when a routine flight lesson in the Ohio skies turned into something much different.
“I flew as a flight instructor at Kent State University,” explained the current Air Force member and business pilot. “(A light) illuminates the whole cockpit and you can’t see.”
Flying thousands of feet high in the air with a flight student, Holcomb and his co-pilot experienced a laser shining from the ground.
“I jumped a little because it surprised me since it was so bright and close,” he explained. “It entered the cockpit through the right window and got him right in the eye. He actually yelled. He actually screamed. It hurt him pretty bad.”
The co-pilot suffered temporary blindness and Holcomb was forced to make a quick landing after taking control of the plane.
A suspect was never found.
Holcomb’s incident in Ohio years ago is all too common now in the metro.
This year, pilots have reported nearly two dozen different incidents of lasers shining into their cockpits at Kansas City International Airport and the downtown airport.
Almost half of all incidents this year have been reported in July.
Finding suspects in the cases can be difficult and KCI spokesperson Joe McBride said the culprits likely don’t know the danger they are causing.
“Most of the time when it’s investigated, it’s someone just playing around not realizing the impact of what they’re doing,” he told 41 Action News. “In the wintertime, you have the holiday lights. Other times, you have these large lasers that someone is probably just playing with.”
Lasers shining into cockpits can cause all sorts of issues and put the lives of both pilots and people onboard at risk.
“You think you’re far away from the plane and far away from the airport but you can still blind that pilot temporarily,” McBride said.
Shining a laser on a plane is a federal offense that could result in up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Moving forward, Holcomb hoped that making people more aware of the issue could result in keeping the skies safer.
“If anyone sees it locally, just step up and try to stop the person from doing it,” he said. “It can really cause an accident. It could be disastrous.”