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NZ: Man faces 14 years in prison for helicopter incident

A young Auckland, New Zealand man is facing up to 14 years in prison for allegedly shining a high-powered laser pointer at the police helicopter Eagle - which promptly hunted him down.

Police say the helicopter is being targeted by lasers almost weekly and want the government to follow Australia's lead in banning possession of the high-powered lasers and introducing a specific charge for laser-pointing.

"Because I don't want to crash, and that's exactly what's going to happen," says pilot and senior constable Shane Gayley. "Helicopters don't glide. There's only one way down and you're screaming all the way."
Gayley says when laser beams hit the cockpit they are "as wide as his arm is long", and initially blind the pilot, then cause burning irritation in the eyes for hours afterwards.

Eagle is particularly susceptible because it flies low, and pilots fly manually rather than relying on instruments.

On August 23, Eagle tracked one alleged laser-pointer, Ricky Laurence Nikora, through Auckland's eastern suburbs, leading to his arrest in a Burger King in Mission Bay.

The 25-year-old labourer from Otahuhu was charged with interfering with a transport facility with reckless disregard - which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years - and has entered no plea. He is due to appear again in Auckland District Court on October 24, for a pre-depositions hearing.

Gayley says other offenders will be before the courts soon on similar serious charges.

The Australian law change was triggered this year by a spate of attacks on at least six passenger jets coming into Sydney airport, where about four lasers simultaneously "painted" cockpits, delaying landings and forcing flight path changes. An air ambulance and police helicopter were also targeted.

Strong lasers - such as the green one allegedly used by Nikora - can be 35 times stronger than red laser pens and shine for 5km.

Here there are only voluntary restrictions on the sale of these lasers but the government announced in June that it would consider a more stringent ban. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs said it would take its lead on a law-change from the Civil Aviation Authority and police.

One other person has been convicted after attacking Eagle with a laser - Gayley says he "got off quite lightly" and was convicted only of criminal nuisance, which carries a one-year sentence.

Gayley says this man was convicted about six months ago, when laser-pointing was just becoming a problem for Eagle. Since then police have been told to use the more serious 14-year charge.

Additional details at stuff.co.nz