Police investigating reports of laser aimed at AirMed helicopter

Published: Monday, Jan. 13 2014 7:00 p.m. MST

Police are investigating an incident where someone pointed a laser at the cockpit of an aircraft. It happened Jan. 10, 2014, as an AirMed helicopter was flying over Highland. The aircraft was able to land safely.

Sam Penrod, Deseret News

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HIGHLAND — Police are investigating a report that someone aimed a laser at a medical helicopter Friday night as it flew over North County Boulevard.

Investigators say a laser aimed at a cockpit can blind pilots and interfere with their ability to keep the helicopter in the air.

The AirMed pilot called police, and a Lone Peak officer responded to the area but could not find who was responsible.

Lasers being flashed in the cockpit is rare but a worry for pilots.

"If you are hit in the face or the eyes by any kind of laser light, it has the potential to temporarily blind you or at the very least to sort of get that after-effect glow when you see a rapid flash of light to the eyes,” said Ben Tidswell, KSL Chopper 5 pilot.

For an aircraft 1,000 feet in the air, the laser is very overwhelming, Tidswell said, especially to a pilot's vision at night.

“What starts out as a pencil-size beam, up to 2 or 3 feet wide at that point, which will seriously illuminate," Tidswell said. "And if you are getting hit in the face, it doesn't matter how much it illuminates. You're still getting hit in the face.”

Just like a lightning strike, pilots can't avoid a laser. Once it's flashed in their eyes, it's already too late, he said.

“Now you can’t really fly the aircraft because you don’t know where you are going because you are blind," Tidswell said. "That potentially could lead to a serious accident or crash.”

It is a criminal offense to point a laser at any cockpit, punishable with jail time and a fine.

"It actually is a federal offense to shine a laser at an aircraft,” Lone Peak police detective Dave Ventrano said. “There actually is a state offense about shining lasers at a moving vehicle or a police officer. You shouldn't point a laser at anybody.”

Email: spenrod@deseretnews.com

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