Rescue pilots voice fear of laser strikes

By Kiri Gillespie

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RISK IS REAL: Barry Vincent, BayTrust Rescue-Helicopter head pilot, says laser strikes are dangerous. PHOTO/FILE
RISK IS REAL: Barry Vincent, BayTrust Rescue-Helicopter head pilot, says laser strikes are dangerous. PHOTO/FILE

Pilots have raised concerns about night-time laser strikes on aircraft - including rescue helicopters and passenger planes.

The Civil Aviation Authority has already recorded four reports this year of people shining lasers into or near planes and helicopters in the Bay of Plenty.

That equals the number of reports for the entire year in 2015. Six laser strikes were recorded in 2014.

... the width of the beam widens. It can actually fill the whole cockpit.
Rescue helicopter pilot Barry Vincent

Rotorua's BayTrust Rescue Helicopter pilot and base manager Barry Vincent said lasers were extremely dangerous and a major distraction.

"Even a small laser from ground level shining up in our cockpit at 1000 feet (300m), the width of the beam widens. It can actually fill the whole cockpit," he said.

Read more: Hundreds of lightening strikes over Rotorua (+ video)

Mr Vincent said he had been targeted by a laser while in flight. "It's obviously very distracting and can be blinding. You can suffer serious eye damage from it. It's not a sensible thing to do. Unfortunately, there are people who still do it."

Mr Vincent said he reported his experience to the Civil Aviation Authority.

"I know the officials take quite a strong view of it and, if they can locate the individual responsible, the police do look on it pretty sternly."

TECT Trustpower Rescue Helicopter pilot Liam Brettkelly. Photo/George Novak
TECT Trustpower Rescue Helicopter pilot Liam Brettkelly. Photo/George Novak

TECT Trustpower Rescue Helicopter pilot Liam Brettkelly said he had experienced people using lasers before "but not for a long time".

"It can affect our night vision, absolutely," Mr Brettkelly said.

"You know what it's like, shining a bright light into your eyes in the dark. They can affect you for several minutes. Night vision goggles are sensitive to bright lights."

Any person believed to have been shining a laser at passing aircraft could be charged with causing unnecessary danger, and face a term of imprisonment of up to 12 months or a fine of up to $10,000.

Civil Aviation Authority corporate communications manager Mike Richards said large and medium-sized passenger aircraft were the most commonly targeted, meaning that laser strikes could cause a high level of public harm in an accident.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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