A Coast Guard aircraft crew was targeted by an individual with a laser pointer while flying into Kalaeloa Airport on Oahu late Tuesday night, according to Coast Guard officials.
The lased HC-130 Hercules airplane crew was returning to Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point from a Department of Defense support mission when the incident occurred just after 9 p.m.
Three crew members observed the laser sweeping the aircraft, but no one was directly affected. The plane was flying at 1,900 feet, six miles from the tarmac.
"This is the third lasing incident within the last five months at our unit. It is absolutely critical that the public be made aware of the seriousness of lasing an aircraft," said Lt. Casey Corpe, who was the co-pilot of the C-130 that was targeted, but had control of the aircraft at the time. "Not only is it a federal offense that carries heavy fines and possible jail time, but it puts our pilots and aircrew in unnecessary danger and seriously delays response times during rescue missions, risking the lives of the people that need help the most."
Corpe said he was able to pinpoint the location of the laser beam to Electric Beach, which is located opposite of the Kahe Power Plant near Nanakuli.
"It was approximately 50 to 100 yards from shore, either just south or just north of Electric Beach," Corpe told reporters.
The Coast Guard is working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Honolulu Police Department to investigate the incident.
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 the aircraft must abort their mission. If an aircrew member is lased, it severely compromises their ability to fly the aircraft and complete the mission safely.
In order to ensure their health, aircrew members are taken off flight duty for 24 hours until cleared by a flight surgeon before flying again. This hinders the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to people in distress, training, and homeland security missions.
It is a federal crime, as well as violation of most states' laws to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. If an individual is caught purposefully lasing an aircraft, punishment ranges from being arrested or having to pay a civil penalty of $11,000 for a single offense, to more than $30,000 if the individual has multiple offenses.
In Hawaii, it's against the law to sell a laser pointer to a minor, or to point one directly or indirectly at someone's eyes. Violators can be fined not less than $100, and not more than $500.
People witnessing this crime are strongly encouraged to immediately call 911 to report the incident. The FAA tracks laser incidents by city, state and nationality and initiated about 95 civil penalty cases in 2011 nationwide.
In 2012, pilots in Hawaii reported 46 laser incidents, 31 of those in Oahu airspace. As of Feb. 4 of this year, there have been 10 reports of lasers shined at aircraft, four of them on Oahu.
Nationally, the number of lasers targeting aircraft has skyrocketed in the past seven years. There were 283 incidents reported in 2005, but as of last year, that number grew to 3,482.
Pilots wishing to report a laser incident can go to the following FAA website: http://www.faa.gov/aircraft/safety/report/laserinfo/