A Coast Guard helicopter crew was targeted by an individual with a laser pointer while flying in the vicinity of Waimanalo Bay on Oahu, Saturday.
The lased MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew was conducting a search in response to an uncorrelated distress call when the incident occurred. Four crewmembers observed the laser sweeping the aircraft and one of the pilots was directly struck.
This is the fifth lasing incident within the last year at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point.
The Coast Guard is working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Honolulu Police Department to investigate the incident.
“We were searching off Waimanalo following a received mayday call when we were hit by a green laser,” said Lt. Cmdr. Roger Barr, an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter pilot at Air Station Barbers Point. “We protected our eyes quickly enough to avoid being blinded, reported the incident, and were able to continue the mission. This was the air station’s first East Oahu lasing incident in recent years. The frequency of incidents locally and nationally is increasing at a dangerous rate and the public needs to know that when we are hit by a laser, we are no longer effective at finding that lost family member or friend.”
Laser pointers can cause glare, afterimage, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision, all causing a great danger to the crew. If any aircrew member’s vision is compromised during a flight, Coast Guard flight rules dictate that the aircraft must abort their mission. If an aircrew member is lased it severely compromises their ability to fly the aircraft and complete the mission safely. In order to ensure their health, aircrew members are taken off flight duty until cleared by a flight surgeon before flying again. This hinders the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to people in distress, training, and homeland security missions.
It is a federal crime, as well as violation of most states’ laws to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. If an individual is caught purposefully lasing an aircraft, punishment ranges from being arrested or having to pay a civil penalty of $11,000 for a single offense, to more than $30,000 if the individual has multiple offenses. People witnessing this crime are strongly encouraged to immediately call 911 to report the incident. The FAA tracks laser incidents by city, state and nationality and initiated about 95 civil penalty cases in 2011 nationwide.
Press Release, November 28, 2013; Image: Navy