Stop Pointing Lasers At Aircraft

In a meeting today of a local Airborne Law Enforcement Services (ABLE) group, Newport Beach Police Chief John Klein asked officials to explore ways to raise public awareness about the danger common laser devices pose to pilots.

Helicopter and airplane pilots across the nation have reported an increase in the number of laser strikes. Here in Orange County, authorities recently arrested at least three people for pointing lasers into the cockpits of police helicopters and commercial jets. If caught—and it's apparently easy for pilots to track the origins of a laser—culprits face prison time and a hefty fine administered by unamused FBI agents.

But Klein worries that the public isn't aware of the issue (many of the lasers are Christmas/birthday gifts for teenagers), and meanwhile, pilots remain at risk. ABLE Commander Tim Starn suggested designing public-service announcements after recounting the impact a laser beam had on a victimized pilot.

"About two years ago, I was hit," Starn told the gathering of police/city officials from Santa Ana, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa that comprise ABLE. "My cockpit turned red, and at first, I thought it was an equipment failure. But someone had pointed a laser in my helicopter. I lost vision in my right eye. It feels like sand in the eye."

According to Starn, the laser beams—which can travel more than a whopping seven miles—are particularly damaging after sunset, when police helicopter pilots often don night-vision goggles that amplify the intensity of the light.

"It's a big deal to pilots," he said. "We can lose control of the helicopter."

-- R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly


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