Coast Guard seeks tips, information on recent laser attacks on helicopters

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay (Coast Guard photo/Petty Officer Third Class Kevin J. Neff)

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay prepares for a night flight. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Third Class Kevin J. Neff)

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 viewed here.

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