By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York City man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to aiming a laser beam at commercial airplanes taking off and landing at LaGuardia Airport, temporarily blinding the pilots, authorities said.

Elehecer Balaguer, 54, was accused of shining a laser pointer into the eyes of the pilots of three planes on March 9, according to a statement by the office of Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“Lasers, when pointed at aircraft, have the ability to incapacitate and injure pilots," Bharara said in the statement. "Thankfully this case did not end in tragedy, but Elehecer Balaguer’s actions were serious and posed a danger."

The pilots were each struck in the eyes with a bright green beam, prompting an air traffic controller at the city's LaGuardia Airport to change runway directions for arriving and departing planes to avoid the light, he said.

The pilots reported that the beam seemed to originate from the city's Bronx borough.

A New York Police Department helicopter was dispatched to the Bronx, where its two pilots also were struck by a laser beam and temporarily blinded, Bharara said.

The police pilots tracked the beam to a second-floor apartment, where officers later found Balaguer and recovered a laser pointer, he said.

Balaguer faces the possibility of five years in prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 9 by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Eric Beech)