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Coast Guard seeks tips, information on recent laser attacks on helicopters
MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. — The Coast Guard is asking the public for tips or information regarding recent laser attacks aimed against rescue helicopter crews.
The latest attack occurred Tuesday evening near the Arcata-Eureka airport as an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay was conducting a practice instrument approach.
The helicopter was southeast of the airport when a green laser coming from a wooded area about three miles east of McKinleyville, was shined directly at the aircraft. The pilots quickly landed so the crew members could receive medical checkups.
“Laser attacks against aircraft are a crime because of the danger they present to aviators and the public," said Capt. Greg Fuller, the commander of Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay. “Our aircrews put their own lives on the line on a daily basis to save others in distress. These laser incidents significantly impact our ability to respond and we ask the public's help in identifying the sources.”
It is a federal crime, as well as a violation of California state law to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. Punishment under state law ranges from civil penalties of $1,000 up to $2,000 and three years imprisonment. Federal law allows for a punishment of imprisonment of up to five years.
Lasers, including common laser pointers, can cause glare, flash blindness, temporary loss of night vision and more permanent damage such as blind spots, cataracts and partial or total loss of visual acuity.
The Coast Guard encourages anyone who sees someone lasing any aircraft to call 911 to report the crime immediately.
Information about some California aviation laser incidents, including arrests and convictions of laser aircraft attackers, can be seen here: http://laserpointersafety.com/news/news/aviation-incidents_files/tag-california.php
The incident took place in Richmond Hill, Georgia. The Coast Guard urged anyone with information to come forward.
The “Star Shower” laser projector, sold for $40 in stores including Wal-Mart, Target and CVS during the 2015 Christmas season. Details on the potential hazard are here.
On December 3 2015, a commercial airplane at 13,000 feet altitude reported being illuminated by what was believed to be a “laser holiday light display.” The light was traced to a home 22 miles east of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. A pilot who was not involved told CBSDFW that likely the homeowner was asked to re-aim or remove the display, to prevent beams from going in the air. According to the news station, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said was the first case they had heard of, involving holiday laser lights.
However, NBC Los Angeles reported on an earlier incident. On November 18 2015, a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft sent a “distress call” to Sacramento police after being illuminated with laser light. A homeowner was advised to be more careful with the beam location. (It is not known why the FAA was not aware of this earlier incident.) Here is the NBC Los Angeles video:
On December 6 2015, three aircraft reported laser lights which were traced to a holiday display at at home three miles from Kansas City International airport. The homeowner told police he had “no idea he was endangering the public”
From CBSDFW, NBC Los Angeles, KSHB Kansas City. For much more information on the device and its potential hazards, see this LaserPointerSafety.com story.
From Highland Radio and the Irish Mirror
The HH-65C Dolphin helicopters were based in Detroit. “During both incidents the lasers appeared to track the helicopters as they moved,” said the agency.
The Coast Guard has strict rules requiring helicopters to abandon their missions if illuminated with laser light. Anyone exposed is taken off flight duty for 24 hours, has their eyes dilated and must be cleared by a doctor before flying again.
From Ars Technica and the Lansing State Journal
A Coast Guard helicopter flying over Arcata [California] was targeted by an individual with a laser Friday evening [September 19 2014].
The MH-65D Dolphin crew was returning from an operation in southern California when the incident occurred. The laser shined directly in the eyes of both pilots and appeared to come from Janes Road at Upper Bay Road in Arcata.
Lieutenant Josh Smith was one of the pilots. "We were at approximately 1500 feet returning to the base when a green laser shined from left to right across the cockpit, shining in both our eyes (the pilots). We tried not to look at the laser, but flying on the instruments while looking away from it (the laser) is very difficult." Coast Guard pilots often fly solely by looking at the cockpit instruments without outside visual cues, but are trained to look away from a laser targeting the aircraft to protect their eyesight. Even if not directly hit by a laser, being forced to look away from the instruments can result in the pilot literally flying blind.
Click to read more...
When Ron Tubbs failed to surface from his dive off Kaena Point, Oahu, his dive partner contacted the Honolulu Fire Department. A helicopter was sent to search; first from the Fire Department and later a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter.
As the skies grew dark, Tubbs saw one or both helicopters but they were searching too close to shore. He pulled out a green laser pointer and aimed in the direction of the aircraft. (News stories are not clear as to which helicopter, or perhaps both, Tubbs aimed at.)
Tubbs later said, “When it got dark I think they finally realized they saw the beam of the laser way off in the distance and [I] took care not shine it in their eyes or anything, but in their direction and it reflects off the moisture in the air, so it makes a pretty big beam.”
Ron Tubbs, diver rescued by aiming laser at helicopter to get its attention
Tubbs demonstrates the laser
The laser worked to get the aircrews’ attention. Tubbs was rescued by the Coast Guard helicopter after about four hours in the water, and was taken to a decompression chamber.
Coast Guard Lt. Chris McAndrew said “With how dark it was last night, it would have been impossible to see him unless we were right on top of him, knew exactly where he was. The way were able to find him so quickly was because he had some kind of signaling device.”
From Hawaii News Now, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and the Huffington Post
UPDATED February 11 2014: Ron Tubbs wrote to LaserPointerSafety.com, to give advice for anyone who might use a laser to attract rescuers:
“The green laser saved my life. The failure of my other safety gear put me in a very serious position. My physical condition was failing quickly. I was vomiting when they picked me up from over four miles from the search area. Any delay due to the use of my laser to get help was very serious.
“My life was depending on the Coast Guard and Fire Department rescuers. To hurt those who are saving other people's lives with a by shining a laser at them is very serious and could have cost me my life.
“The Coast Guard pilot who saved my life reported to me that the green laser and/or any LED light is not seen with their night vision goggles. Three of the four crew were wearing those goggles.
“I will never scuba dive without my green laser again and have it as a safety device. Even so because night vision goggles do not see LED light I would suggest a nice expensive strobe and very bright flashlight (not LED) too or flares as the main signal device in addition to the laser. Also the Fire Department helicopter would not go near a laser as they have only have one pilot and a glass helicopter floor.
“To shine a laser towards a helicopter could actually cause the rescue to be delayed. Also shining the laser right into their eyes could blind the ones you need to rescue you so be very careful if you do use one to get help. Do not put those trying to rescue you at risk too. Shining in their direction and not at them will work well enough.
“Thanks to those who saved my life. Please all do not put them at risk further by shining a laser at them! “
The perpetrator was not located.
This was the fifth lasing thus far in 2013 for aircraft stationed at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point.
Henry Luther Cole Jr. was found parked near a seawall. He was charged with violating a restraining order, menacing, and disorderly conduct. Bail was set at $40,000. The case was referred to the Coast Guard Investigative Service, which is looking into possible federal charges.
Depoe Bay is on the Oregon coast, about 80 miles southwest of Portland. It promotes its six-acre harbor as the “world’s smallest”, according to its Wikipedia entry.
From the Statesman Journal and a news release from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s office
The crew member was treated for temporary vision impairment and will make a full recovery.
According to the Coast Guard, this was the third laser incident since June 2012 for aircrews at Coast Guard Air Station Corpus Christi. A Navy air station nearby has reported two other incidents.
From KTRK-TV 13 Houston, CNN and Caller.com
On August 8 2012, three orange flares were spotted near Garden City Beach, S.C. A helicopter from Air Facility Charleston, S.C. arrived in the area when it was illuminated by a laser. Under Coast Guard rules, the helicopter broke off its mission and the aircrew underwent medical inspection. One crew member had direct laser exposure and was not cleared to fly again for roughly 12 hours.
A boat was sent to continue the search, but did not arrive at the scene until about two hours after the helicopter had left. At dawn, a second helicopter was sent out. Neither the boat nor the helicopter found anything unusual.
The commanding officer of the Coast Guard’s Air Station Savannah said “… every time we send our aircrews to the Grand Strand, we're telling them to fly into the equivalent of a storm, where it's almost guaranteed they'll be hit. We're simply asking the public to stop putting Coast Guard men and women in senseless and unnecessary danger."
From CarolinaLive. See a related story about the first two Coast Guard laser incidents, in July 2012, in the same area.
The story did not say whether the helicopter crew broke off their mission, or whether they completed the search before the landing. It also does not give a definition or details of the emergency; for example, whether merely having the laser in the cockpit required an emergency landing under Coast Guard procedures, or whether the crew experienced any vision or operational difficulties.
There have been six laser incidents with Savannah air station-based Coast Guard helicopters in the last year and a half, with four of these occurring during searches.
From CarolinaLive.com. In addition to this story, see additional stories at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach.
UPDATE July 28 2012: A story at Myrtle Beach Online describes the ordeal of the missing boaters, and how lasers twice forced Coast Guard helicopters to break off the search. It also has additional details about Coast Guard procedures once a laser is seen.
According to deputies, a witness had told the teens to stop lasing, because they were breaking the law. It is unknown whether this was told to them before or after they illuminated the helicopter.
From Clay Today
From Military.com News
From Bray People. Click the “Rescue” tag in the left hand column to find similar stories of disrupted rescue operations in the UK and elsewhere.
A spokesperson said that under Coast Guard rules, an illuminated aircraft must abort the mission. Crew members are taken off flight duty for at least one day, and must be examined by a doctor before flying again. “This temporary loss of crew has the potential to significantly affect the unit’s abilities to conduct search and rescue, training and homeland security missions.”
Due to previous incidents in Ocean City, the police and a local merchants association had asked members voluntarily to not sell laser pointers. But the president of the association noted that full compliance would not be possible unless there was an official ban or regulation.
From the Press of Atlantic City, Cape May County Herald, and Ocean City Patch.
UPDATE, June 21 2011: Bouda pleaded guilty in municipal court for interference with transportation. He was fined $1000 and must perform 15 days of community service. If he successfully completes the community service, the fine could be reduced to $500. In addition, he faces civil penalties from the FAA. (It is unclear from the news story whether or not FAA has actually begin proceedings against Bouda.) From Shore News Today.
Related LaserPointerSafety.com news stories about Ocean City and New Jersey laser troubles
- August 26 2010: Ocean City officials discuss city-wide ban on laser pointers after summer incidents.
- November 22 2010: State senate bill 2430 is introduced in November 2010 to ban laser pointers above 1 milliwatt.
- June 8 2011: Man buys laser in Ocean City, points it at helicopter, and is almost immediately arrested.
- June 11 2011: Residents report harassment; voluntary sales ban is not working.
- June 24 2011: Unanimous vote on the initial measure to ban Ocean City laser pointer sales and possession.
- July 14 2011: Unanimous vote on the “second reading” to make the Ocean City ban official.
- April 16 2013: North Wildwood NJ bans sale and possession of laser pointers above 1 mW.
- August 20 2013: New Jersey state legislature passes bill to ban laser pointer sales above 1 mW; sends bill to Governor for signature.
- October 17 2013: Governor Chris Christie vetoes bill to ban laser pointer sales, saying the 1 mW power limit was “arbitrary” and there was no criminal use of lasers between 1 mW and the federal limit of 5 mW in New Jersey.