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Field Notes

FBI document shows how alleged criminal was caught

FBI document shows how alleged criminal was caught
Stephen Bukucs
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The affidavit from the FBI agent might as well be the opening scene of a thriller.

It is August 10 of this year, about 10:30 at night. The FBI has four planes in the air above Portland. The planes are equipped with special cameras pointing to the ground.

Two of the planes belong to the bureau and two belong to the Portland Police Department.

Their mission – figure out who has been aiming a laser at planes approaching Portland International Airport.

The pilots all know the risks involved.

What starts off on the ground as a fine beam, widens as it reaches into the atmosphere. By the time it reaches a cockpit, the beam can be several feet wide and cause all sorts of problems including glare, flash blindness and even eye damage.

None of these things are helpful when you are trying to land a plane with hundreds of people aboard.

And yet, that is what has been happening with increasing frequency.

In 2012, there were about 120 separate incidents in which pilots had to battle through the effects of having been hit by a laser. This year, says the FBI, that number should be surpassed without trouble.

The planes were joined by several units on the ground.

Officers from the Portland Police Bureau, the Port of Portland Police Department joined FBI agents around Gateway Transit Center to move once they received information from one of the planes.

Previous surveillance had determined that the laser was coming from that area, maybe a bit to the south.

Around 11:15. The pilot of Alaska Airlines flight 619 radioed in that he had been hit by a laser.

The information was relayed to two officers from the Port of Portland who were stationed at the Fred Meyer on Northeast 102nd. One of the pilots thought the laser came from around an apartment complex near Irving and 99th.

As the officers head over, the surveillance planes report being hit by lasers.

One of the FBI planes radios in at 11:25. Then one of the police planes at 11:34. The second FBI plane was hit four minutes later.

At 11:40, the officers arrive by the apartments and see a group of duplexes behind them.

In the backyard of one of the duplexes, they could see a man with a white t-shirt looking to the sky.

They could hear a plane circling overhead – they knew it was the second police bureau plane. The man in the shirt – who did not and could not know  the identity of the plane, apparently heard it as well.

The officers saw him run into the duplex and come out with what appeared to be something mounted to a pole or stand.

Moments later the plane was hit by a laser.

The man was seen running back into the duplex.

The laser strikes were done for the night.

Based on what the officers saw, surveillance was set up at the duplex of the man in the white t-shirt.

A little less than two weeks later, Southwest 1679 was struck by a green laser. It lit up the cockpit.

When the surveillance is reviewed, the man in the white t-shirt is seen walking his cat on a leash while smoking. A green laser dot appears in front of him a couple of times as if it had been coming from something in his hand.

Two days later, two more planes are hit.

And the day after that, another plane.

This continues on and off over the next few weeks.

On October 13 – two more planes. United 1406 and Jet Blue 1205. Both were approaching PDX. Both were hit by the laser.

When the surveillance was reviewed, the man in the white t-shirt was seen with a laser pointer in his hand, sometimes holding it up to the sky.

It didn’t take long for the FBI agents to identify the man in the white t-shirt as Stephen Bukucs.

He was arrested last Friday and pleaded not guilty on Monday.

In court, the prosecutor said that Bukucs had admitted aiming his laser at about 25 different planes before his arrest.

For now, he is only charged with two incidents and faces ten years in prison.

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