Coast Guard seeks information after laser strike hits Port Angeles air crew

“These types of incidents can be very dangerous to the safety of our air crews and disrupts our ability to respond as a search and rescue asset,” the commanding officer said.

PORT ANGELES — The Coast Guard announced Tuesday it is seeking information from the public to help investigators locate a person who pointed a green laser light at a Coast Guard helicopter as the air crew was making a final approach to Air Station Port Angeles on Monday.

The flight crew aboard an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter landed safely after being illuminated for about one second at 8:23 p.m., the Coast Guard said.

Crew members were checked out by the duty corpsman, who medically cleared them to resume duty at about 10:30 p.m. Monday.

The laser light came from the vicinity of Fourth and Hill streets in Port Angeles, the Coast Guard said.

“These types of incidents can be very dangerous to the safety of our air crews 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 air crew was medically grounded for approximately two hours. This resulted in Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Sector Columbia River, located in Warrenton, Ore., covering our area of responsibility until the Port Angeles air crew 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 air crews. It places all mariners at risk due to delayed response times should they become in distress.”

It’s not the first time that Port Angeles Coast Guard personnel have been struck by laser light.

In April and December 2015, crews flying in the Port Angeles area cut training sessions short because lasers were shined at their helicopters. In April of this year, a Port Angeles crew halted a training session near Bellingham because of a green laser light.

No one was hurt, but lasers can put crew members in danger, the Coast Guard said.

Laser pointers can cause glare, afterimage, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision.

If a laser is shined in the eyes of an air crew 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 or imprisoned for up to five years, or both.

The incident was reported to Port Angeles police.

Chief Brian Smith said the department will work closely with the Coast Guard and will ask for information on its Facebook page and website at http://tinyurl.com/pdn-papolice.

“Our role is to support Coast Guard Investigative Services,” Smith said, adding, “It’s a felony under federal law. The consequences are substantial.”

Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact Coast Guard investigators at 206-220-7170.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at lleach@peninsuladailynews.com.

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