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Laser beam pointed at last Friday's Hawaiian Airlines flight

Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele [SN file photo]
Authorities seeking the community's help in identifying the culprit(s)

Hawaiian Airlines has confirmed that a “laser incident” occurred last Friday night, as the Hawaiian flight was coming in for a landing at the Pago Pago International Airport. And local authorities are seeking the public’s help in obtaining information on the incident, in which a laser beam was pointed towards the aircraft.

What remains unclear is the area on the ground where the laser was aimed from.

According to federal law, enacted in 2012, it’s Illegal to aim laser pointer beams at an aircraft or their flight path. Penalty for violating this law is up to 5 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

A concerned local resident, who was a “frightened passenger” on board the flight, raised the issue over the weekend in hopes that someone would step forward to provide information and assist local and federal authorities in identifying the culprit or culprits involved.

The local resident described the laser as “green and extremely bright”, saying “it was very alarming.”

Another local resident, who was not a passenger on the plane, told Samoa News yesterday that he had a family member on that flight “and this incident shouldn’t be taken as a joke at all. People with information should contact local authorities.”

Responding to Samoa News inquires, Hawaiian spokesperson Ann Botticelli said Sunday afternoon that the captain of last Friday’s night flight “did report a laser incident” to the tower at the airport but she didn’t have more information.

(Samoa News assumes that the tower referred to by Botticelli is the one at the Faleolo International Airport, as there is no FAA control tower at the Tafuna airport.)

The FAA public affairs office in Los Angeles, which covers media issues for Hawai’i and the US territories, couldn’t be reached for comments as it was closed due to the partial federal shutdown over lack of funding.

An auto-reply message, to Samoa News email questions on Sunday, recommends contacting the airline and local airport authorities.

Department of Port Administration’s Airport Manager, Tavita Fuimaono said yesterday that an airport safety officer was notified of the situation around 10:27p.m Friday by the local Hawaiian Air station manager and this was about 30 minutes after the plane’s arrival.

“We cannot control events outside of our airport at such a short time span,” said Fuimaono responding to Samoa News inquiries on behalf of Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele. “This is the same with flying drones in airports. These are new challenges that we are facing with our airport environment.”

Furthermore, “we need to ‘educate’ the public about the dangers of shooting laser beams to pilots, especially on approach [because] lasers can blind pilots and therefore endanger their visibility in precision approach to our airport at night.”

He explained that shooting a laser to an aircraft: can blind the pilot; jeopardize the safety of landing the aircraft; and risk the lives of passengers on board.

Fuimaono reminds the community that the “majority of passengers on planes arriving/departing Pago Pago airport are either our relatives or friends. This should be considered by the public for the sake and safety of aircrafts in our airport.”

“In order to mitigate this practice, we are seeking assistance from the local Department of Homeland Security and/or Department of Public Safety if they can be on the lookout during the arrival of Hawaiian,” he continued.

“It takes less than 10 minutes for Hawaiian to reach Pago Pago airport on final approach. This won’t be much time to track a culprit shooting a laser,” Fuimaono said.

The last known laser incident involving a Hawaiian flight while landing at the Tafuna Airport was in the later part of March 2011. Samoa News reported at the time the incident occurred “when the aircraft was descending” to the Tafuna Airport. It was believed to be the first laser incident at the airport at the time and there was no affect on the pilots or the safety of the passengers and crew.

“There is nothing funny, humorous or cute about shining a laser at an aircraft,” the FAA said at the time.