PORT ANGELES — The Coast Guard is seeking information from the public to help locate the person or persons who pointed a red laser light at a Coast Guard helicopter at 10:23 a.m. Friday as the crew was flying a mission northwest of Bremerton.
The Port Angeles flight crew aboard the MH-65 Dolphin helicopter returned home safely after being indirectly illuminated for about one second and were checked out by the duty corpsman, who medically cleared the crew to resume duty.
The laser strike was reported to Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, the Federal Aviation Administration and local police by the aircrew. The laser light came from the vicinity of the southwest corner of Naval Base Kitsap in Bangor.
Laser pointers can cause great danger to aircrews 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.
“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. Scott Jackson, commanding officer at Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles.
“In this particular case, the aircrew was deemed fit to continue flying; however, we have had instances where our crews have been medically grounded. In these cases Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Coast Guard Sector Columbia River are required to cover our area of responsibility until the Port Angeles aircrew is medically cleared.
“We need the public to understand the dangers of playing with 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.”
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 special agents are investigating the incident. Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact investigators at 206-220-7170.
For more information about laser safety and the effects of an aircraft laser incident, visit the Federal Aviation Administration’s Laser Safety webpage at www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/lasers.