Russian security services yesterday arrested a man they believe has been trying to blind pilots of aeroplanes coming into land by using a powerful laser beam.
Police found laser torches that can direct beams up to 25 miles at the home of Alexander Kuleznyov, a 24-year-old Muscovite who lives not far from the runway at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport.
Mr Kuleznyov, if guilty, is part of a craze that appears to be sweeping Russia for shining beams from shop-bought lasers at planes. Travellers flying in Russia already have to contend with old planes, poor maintenance and harsh weather conditions. The "laser hooligans" have added extra danger to flying.
Police say there have been dozens of incidents in various places in Russia since the start of this year. In the latest report, a plane carrying 162 passengers was targeted late on Thursday night as it came into land in Makhachkala, a city in southern Russia on the Caspian Sea.
The plane managed to land safely, and so far there have been no accidents as a result of the ill-advised pranks. But pilots say that the laser beams, if correctly targeted, can blind them for several seconds and are extremely dangerous.
Earlier this month, a high-ranking police officer called for 10-year jail sentences for people who blind pilots, if their actions cause deaths.
"There's a certain category of people who don't think about the consequences of their actions," said Alexei Lapin, police chief of the Rostov region in southern Russia.
"Publicity in the media only encourages them to act. In medicine, this is called an epidemic, and it has yet to peak," Mr Lapin said.