A Coast Guard helicopter crew conducting a training flight over Clallam County Airport in Port Angeles reportedly suffered a laser strike from an unknown ground source Monday night.
Laser pointers can cause great danger to aircrews as a result of glare, afterimage, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision. Coast Guard flight rules dictate that aircrewmen who suffer lasing must abort their mission for safety reasons.
Medical personnel are evaluating the condition of the affected Dolphin crewmembers. To protect their health and safety, each member is taken off flight duty until cleared by a flight surgeon. This hampers the Coast Guard’s ability to conduct training and respond to people in distress.
“This type of incident can be very dangerous to our safety and our ability to fly the aircraft,” said Cmdr. Mark Heupel, pilot and air operations officer at Air Station Port Angeles. “These incidents not only hinder our ability to perform the mission, they can also lead to potential medical issues with our crew. These incidents are on the rise around the country, the public needs to be aware of the danger their actions may cause to the crew of a rescue helicopter.”
According to the Coast Guard’s 2013 Aviation Safety Annual Report, there were 44 reported laser strike incidents on Coast Guard aircraft resulting in 14 temporary injury incidents to affected crewmembers. This was a 26 percent increase in strikes from the previous year.
Under 18 U.S. Code § 39A, it is a federal crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft, as it is considered interfering with the safety of a flight crew. If an individual is caught purposefully lasing an aircraft, the maximum civil penalty that can be imposed on them is up to $11,000 per violation. Anyone witnessing this type of crime is strongly encouraged to immediately call 911 to report the incident.
Coast Guard Investigative Service agents are working with local law enforcement to investigate the incident. Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact Coast Guard investigators at 206-220-7170.
For more information about laser safety and the effects of an aircraft laser incident, visit the Federal Aviation Administration’s Laser Safety Initiatives webpage at http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/lasers/.