PORTLAND, Ore. — Aerial surveillance conducted by a multi-agency team led investigators to the Portland man accused of aiming a laser pointer at two commercial airliners, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Thursday.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Portland police and other agencies used four planes to conduct video surveillance in August in a neighborhood where previous laser incidents had originated.
After FBI planes equipped with video surveillance and an Alaska Airlines flight were targeted by green lasers, investigators tracked the laser beam to the apartment complex where Stephen Francis Bukucs lives.
Video surveillance at the apartment complex confirmed Bukucs pointed a laser at airplanes multiple times, the affidavit said. Bukucs also listened to aircraft communications via a hand-held radio programmed to Federal Aviation Administration frequencies, authorities said.
The 39-year-old private security guard pleaded not guilty Monday to two federal counts of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. He was released and his trial was set for mid-December.
The charges, which allege Bukucs aimed a laser pointer at United and JetBlue flights on Oct. 13, carries a potential punishment of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he’s convicted.
Green laser lights, marketed as tools to point out stars at night, can reach objects up to 5 miles away and can distract or temporarily blind pilots, especially at critical times when they are landing or taking off.
No aircraft has crashed as a result of a laser incident.
Laser attacks on planes have increased nationwide from a few hundred instances in 2005 to nearly 3,500 reports in 2012.
The FBI says Portland has one of the highest numbers of reported lasers attacks in the nation. Through mid-October, pilots in Portland reported 127 laser incidents this year. They reported 100 incidents in 2012 and 51 in 2011.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen F. Peifer said in court that Bukucs admitted pointing a green laser light at aircraft at least 25 times and said he did it “for excitement, for thrills.”