The U.S. Coast Guard says one of its helicopter crew was targeted by an individual with a laser pointer while flying nearly two miles offshore of Oahu late Tuesday.
The MH-65 Dolphin helicopter was forced to return to Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point.
The crew’s flight mechanic and rescue swimmer were affected, compromising their abilities to perform duties, according to the Coast Guard.
"Whether this was a malicious or just irresponsible act, it is critical that the public be aware of the seriousness of lasing an aircraft," said Capt. Timothy Gilbride, commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point. "Not only does it risk the lives of the aircrew, it can delay rescue missions or disable crews, risking the lives of distressed mariners."
Laser pointers can cause glare, afterimage, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision, all causing a great danger to the crew. If any aircrew member’s vision is compromised during a flight, Coast Guard flight rules dictate that the aircraft must abort their mission. This hinders the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to people in distress, training and homeland security missions.
Additionally, aircrew members are taken off flight duty for a minimum of 24 hours. They must have their eyes dilated and be cleared by a doctor before flying again.
According to a Food and Drug Administration Consumer Safety Alert, overpowered green laser pointers may have been modified to emit more radiation than originally intended. These overpowered green laser pointers are a serious concern because they can cause permanent eye damage. The FDA regulates the manufacture of laser products.
It is a federal crime, as well as violation of most states' law to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. People witnessing this crime are strongly encouraged to immediately call 911 to report the incident.