Airline officials say a laser strike New Year's Day on an aircraft inbound to the Medford airport required the plane's first officer to seek medical attention.
Jessica Wheeler, a spokeswoman for Allegiant Air, said Flight 558 from Los Angeles was approaching the Medford airport Thursday when the plane's first officer was struck in the eye by a laser beam. The plane landed safely, and Wheeler said the first officer was taken to a local area physician to be cleared to fly. She did not know his condition.
The plane had been scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. departure for Las Vegas that had to be pushed back to Friday morning.
"We filed a report with the local law enforcement authorities and are cooperating with the FAA and FBI on any investigation they may do," she said.
Medford resident Pam Bock, a passenger on the scheduled Flight 557 to Las Vegas, wrote on Facebook that passengers were told the laser strike had occurred as the plane was passing over the Siskiyou Pass, in what was described to them as an attempt "to cause laser blindness and potentially cause a crash."
The Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 makes it a federal felony to knowingly point a laser beam at an aircraft.
Beth Anne Steele, spokeswoman for the FBI's Portland Field Office, said she couldn't confirm whether the agency's Medford agents would be taking part in the investigation.
"Oftentimes in these cases, we can't confirm investigations," Steele said. "Certainly the FBI does have the ability to investigate laser strikes."
The Medford Police Department was not immediately available Friday for comment on whether it was involved in the investigation.
Since the FAA instituted a formal tracking system for laser strikes in 2005, the agency has recorded 17,283 incidents nationwide through 2013. That year alone saw 3,960 laser strikes, a 931 percent increase since 2006. The agency says the increase is partially due to the relatively recent proliferation of cheap, high-powered lasers for sale online. The laser beams can hit planes flying at higher altitudes, risking temporary or permanent eye damage to flight crew members.
Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.