A man is in jail after eight commercial airliners and a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter were reportedly hit by a laser while flying over North Texas Tuesday night, the Federal Aviation Administration says.
FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said nine incidents were reported Tuesday night that involved two flights each from American Airlines and Envoy (formerly American Eagle) headed into Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, two Southwest Airlines flights headed into Dallas Love Field Airport and two FedEx cargo flights inbound to Fort Worth Alliance Airport.
Lunsford said the planes were inbound over Johnson County when they were targeted by the laser. One plane was 11,000 feet in the air at the time.
Controllers were able to safely reroute the planes, and no crew members or passengers were injured.
The pilot of a DPS helicopter also reported being targeted by the laser, and they were able to follow the beam to and direct Johnson County sheriff's deputies to a rural home in the 9000 block of County Road 604.
"Our deputies approached the residence. They all initially denied having anything involvement, said they were all asleep, they were not outside doing anything wrong. Once one of the perpetrators was made aware that there was video of the DPS helicopter tracking laser back the residence, he became cooperative and eventually surrendered the laser and was arrested," said Chief Deputy Mike Powell of the Johnson County Sheriff's office.
Austin Lawrence Siferd, 24, faces a misdemeanor charge of illumination of an aircraft by intense light.
His fiancée told NBC 5 that she bought Siferd the laser, and they were just using it to look at stars.
"I think that he probably did think that they were just looking at the stars. I really don't think he meant anything intentional. I really don't," said homeowner Brenda Arnold.
Sheriff's officials didn't immediately release information on bond or an attorney for Siferd.
Lunsford said, including Tuesday night's incidents, there have been 59 reported laser strikes in North Texas this year.
"There have been nights where there have been a number of strikes, but they usually come in ones or twos and then they go away," Lunsford said.
Commercial airline captain Scott Shankland knows the dangers from laser pointers.
"The whole cockpit filled with light. It was a green light," he said.
He was part of a flight crew blinded on approach by a laser several years ago while landing in New York.
"It is blinding for a period of time where the pilots are incapacitated, sometimes for seconds, sometimes for minutes," Shankland said. "Imagine being hit by a flash, by the flash of a camera at very close range, only that flash can stay and be continuous. It literally takes away your vision for a period of time."
It's a danger not just for pilots, but also their passengers.
"It impacts them when they are close to the ground, and that's where the danger lies," Shankland said. "It's definitely a risk to safety."
In May, two pilots reported seeing lasers pointed in their direction as they flew at about 3,000 feet over Dallas toward Arlington.
Last month, federal judges handed out prison sentences ranging from eight months to two years for two men who targeted DPS helicopters with laser pointers in separate incidents.
In both cases, both men faced up to five years behind bars and a fine of up to $250,000.
For three months in 2014, the FBI offered a reward up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone who aimed a laser pointer at an aircraft. A pilot program led to a 19 percent decrease in reported strikes.
Federal charges are still pending against Siferd. He could face up to five years in a federal prison for each offense, for a total of 45 years behind bars.
NBC 5's Kevin Cokely and Holley Ford and The Associated Press' Diana Heidgerd contributed to this report.