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Laser Forces Coast Guard to Abort Kahului Training Mission

Kahului Airport. Photo by Wendy Osher. [1]

Kahului Airport. Photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

A Coast Guard aircraft was forced to return to Oahu after being targeted by an individual with a laser pointer while flying into Kahului Airport on Maui on Monday night, authorities said.

Coast Guard officials say the crew’s copilot was affected, compromising his ability to fly the aircraft.

Under agency flight rules, a Coast Guard craft must abort its mission if any aircrew member’s vision is compromised during a flight.  The lasing incident forced the crew to return to Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, on Oahu.

The lased HC-130H Hercules aircraft crew was conducting training at the time of the incident.

“Whether this was a malicious, or just irresponsible act, it is critical that the public be made aware of the seriousness of lasing an aircraft,” said Lt. Casey Corpe, Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point public affairs officer in a media statement today. “Not only does it risk the health of the aircrew, it can seriously delay response times during rescue missions, risking the lives of the people that need help the most,” said Lt. Corpe.

Authorities with the US Coast Guard say laser pointers can cause glare, afterimage, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision, which poses a danger to the crew.

In a separate incident three months ago [2], a Coast Guard helicopter was forced to land after a laser pointer interfered with its flight on October 23, 2012.  During that incident, a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter was about two miles offshore of O’ahu when the ability of the flight mechanic and rescue swimmer were compromised by a laser pointer.

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 can cause permanent eye damage, according to agency officials.

Such incidents, authorities say hinder the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to people in distress, conduct training, and other essential missions. Additionally, aircrew members are taken off flight duty until cleared by a flight surgeon before flying again.

It is a federal crime, as well as violation of most states’ laws, to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. People witnessing this crime are encouraged to call 911 immediately to report the incident.

***Supporting information courtesy US Coast Guard, Hawai’i.