Rescue chopper pilot slams 'bloody idiots'

By Vaughan Elder

Laser light could blind a pilot to the point where they could not see what they were doing. File photo
Laser light could blind a pilot to the point where they could not see what they were doing. File photo

A group of "bloody idiots'' who shone a blinding laser at a rescue helicopter from the outskirts of Dunedin can count themselves lucky the pilot's cellphone coverage was out.

After having the light shone into his cockpit just after 3am on Saturday, Heliworks Queenstown pilot Shaun Clark tracked the source of the laser to a car parked on a Halfway Bush street and was ready to call 111 and track the car until police arrived.

The only thing stopping him was the fact the Lakes District Air Rescue Trust helicopter's cellphone system was not working.

Mr Clark made the decision to track the culprits after experiencing the blinding effect of a laser only moments before as he, accompanied by a paramedic, flew back to Queenstown after dropping off a patient being transferred to Dunedin Hospital from Cromwell after a medical emergency.

The light, being shone from about 2km away, caused a "really bright flash'' in the cockpit and he initially thought his colleague was taking a photo with a flash camera.

"I turned around to see if that was what it was and as I turned I just got this blinding light green light right in my eyes.''

The culprits continued to shine the laser after Mr Clark tracked them to a parked car.

"They must have realised we were looking at them because we pretty much stopped in a hover slightly west of the house.''

He had a simple message for the "bloody idiots'' responsible and that was to have more consideration and "don't be so stupid''.

"Flying at night involves significantly more risk than flying during the day as it is.

"We don't need idiots increasing that risk further, particularly when we are out there doing a service to the community, and the next person that needs flown by rescue helicopter could be these guys with the lasers.''

Laser light could blind a pilot to the point where they could not see what they were doing and it could also cause permanent damage to the retina.

Mr Clark had experienced "sore eyes'' on the flight back to Queenstown, but they were "fine'' yesterday.

In 24 years of flying, it was the first time he had had a laser pointed at him, but he had read it was an increasing trend worldwide.

He reported the incident to Dunedin police and the Civil Aviation Authority yesterday.

A police spokeswoman said they visited several houses in the area yesterday, but were unable to locate the culprit.

Police took the crime "very seriously'', as pointing lasers at aircraft could have "dire consequences'' and put the lives of the pilot, any passengers and other people in the vicinity at serious risk.

People caught shining lasers at aircraft faced a maximum of 12 months' imprisonment or a fine not exceeding $10,000.

Anyone with information on Saturday's incident was asked to contact police.

• Dunedin police (03) 471-4800, Crimestoppers 0800 555-111.

- Otago Daily Times

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 28 Sep 2016 00:57:17 Processing Time: 1084ms