A green laser light was pointed at a Coast Guard helicopter as the aircrew was making a final approach to Air Station Port Angeles, at 8:23 p.m., Monday.
The Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles flight crew aboard, an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, safely landed after being illuminated for about one second, and were checked out by the duty corpsman who medically cleared the crew to resume duty at about 10:30 p.m. Monday.
The laser strike was reported to Air Station Port Angeles and local police by the aircrew. The laser light came from the vicinity of 4th and Hill Street in Port Angeles.
“These types of incidents can be very dangerous to the safety of our aircrews and disrupts our ability to respond as a search and rescue asset,” said Cmdr. Mark Hiigel, commanding officer, Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles. “In this particular case the aircrew was medically grounded for approximately two hours. This resulted in Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Sector Columbia River, located in Warrenton, Oregon, covering our area of responsibility until the Port Angeles aircrew was medically cleared. We need the general public to understand that the dangers of playing with green laser lights goes beyond medical risks to our aircrews, it places all mariners at risk due to delayed response times should they become in distress.”
Laser pointers can cause great danger to the aircrew due to glare, afterimage, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision. If a laser is shined in the eyes of an aircrew member, Coast Guard flight rules dictate that the aircraft must abort its mission.
Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a felony crime under 18 U.S. Code Section 39A, which states whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.
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 investigators at 206-220-7170.