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Russian airliners targeted by 'laser hooligans'

By Maxim Tkachenko, CNN
This file photo shows a Tupolev Tu-204 plane at the Moscow International Air Show on August 14, 2001, in Zhukovsky, Russia.
This file photo shows a Tupolev Tu-204 plane at the Moscow International Air Show on August 14, 2001, in Zhukovsky, Russia.
  • Two commercial jets report laser beams in cabins Tuesday
  • Incidents occurred as jets were landing at Moscow's Vnukovo airport
  • There have been 56 such incidents reported in 2011, official says
  • There were only five reports last year
  • Russia
  • Airlines
  • Moscow

Moscow (CNN) -- In a series of potentially serious incidents, aviation officials in Russia say, two commercial airliners have been targeted with laser pointers while landing at a Moscow airport.

The crews of a Tupolev Tu-204 flying from Istanbul and a Boeing 737 flying from the east Siberian city of Yakutsk reported seeing a green laser beam in their cabins. The beams came from the ground as the planes were preparing to land, four minutes apart, at Moscow's Vnukovo airport shortly after 2 a.m. Tuesday, said Sergei Izvolsky, a spokesman for the Russian federal air transport regulator Rosaviatsia.

"When such a laser beam reflects off the multilayer glass of the pilot's window, it creates a bright spark that can momentarily blind the crew for several seconds or even several minutes," he said. "At that point, the pilot might be disoriented. He might not be able to see the plane's dashboard or the airstrip on which he is landing. This is a navigation obstacle and, ultimately, a direct threat to both the crew and the passengers."

Izvolsky said there has been a sharp increase in "laser hooliganism" against passenger jetliners in Russia.

"Since the beginning of 2011, there have already been 56 such cases registered, compared to just five for the entire last year. Most of them took place in Moscow and in some southern parts of Russia," he said.

In all of the incidents, officials say, the planes have managed to land safely.

On Monday, a 17-year-old boy was arrested in connection with a laser incident reported Sunday in the southern region of Chechnya, the first and only case thus far in which a "laser hooligan" suspect has been identified. On Tuesday, Russian state TV continuously played a dressing-down that the regional police chief gave the teenager, who admitted his guilt, in front of his relatives and reporters.

"That was very bad conduct. More than a hundred were on board the plane, including women and children. You could have killed all of them," Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov said.

The boy's mother said, "I didn't expect my son could do anything like that. In the future, I promise I will keep a close eye on him."

The leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, pardoned the teenager, saying he'll be treated as a terrorist if he ever does it again. Kadyrov also imposed an immediate ban on all sales of laser pointers in Chechyna.

Last week, several Russian lawmakers proposed amendments to the country's Criminal Code to specifically punish the use of laser pointers against airplanes. Under the bill, such actions could carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison.