An El Paso medical helicopter pilot says someone shined a laser on him while he was flying to pick up a patient Tuesday night. It's a serious problem and it brings serious punishment.
Anyone who shines a laser at an aircraft and gets caught, faces years in prison and hefty fines in the thousands of dollars.
Just last year, the Federal Aviation Administration reported nearly 4,000 laser incidents. On April 16, an air ambulance pilot shared what it was like to be blinded from the ground.
Air Method Corporation's Lead Pilot Kyle Arnett says his eyes are the most important thing while he's transporting patients in an air ambulance.
"I think a lot of people do it for fun. I don't think they realize the repercussions," Arnett said when asked why he believes people shine lasers at pilots.
Arnett was flying east towards Van Horn, Texas, Tuesday night to pick up a patient. He says it was the first time a laser strike has happened to him in the air. But, the FAA and FBI say incidents have increased by 1,100 percent since they started keeping record in 2005.
"It would certainly be appreciated by me and other pilots to just point out that it's not the proper thing to do and it's very dangerous," Arnett said.
The FAA's website says people may be fined up to $11,000 per laser strike violation. A central California man was recently sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for shining a laser at a Fresno police helicopter.
Last year, the El Paso Air Branch for U.S. Customs and Border Protection had two incidents involving lasers.
"The problem is not only the laser and what could happen to the aircrew but also, what's on the other end of it? Is it a high-powered rifle," Rodolfo Maldonado, Director of Air Operations at CBP Office of Air and Marine, asked.
A person can buy laser pointers nearly anywhere, and most of them are red in color, but the ones that are making pilots leary are green. Pilots, like Arnett, hope people realize laser strikes pose more hazards than just blindness.
"It could have cost my life, it could have cost the life of people on the ground," Arnett said.
In February, the FBI launched a reward program for deterring laser strikes. The department offered a reward of up to $10,000 for information, that led to an arrest of any individual who aimed a laser at an aircraft.