Coast Guard helicopter crew targeted with laser pointer

5th Coast Guard District News

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. ­– A Coast Guard helicopter crew roughly two miles off the coast of Ocean City, N.J., was targeted by an individual with a laser pointer at approximately 9 p.m. Tuesday.

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, N.J., was performing hoist training with a TowBoatUS crew when the helicopter was targeted with a laser pointer. The TowBoatUS crew notified the Ocean City Police Department and watchstanders at Air Station Atlantic City operation’s center who in turn notified the Federal Aviation Administration.

Officers from the Ocean City Police Department arrived to the location of the report and took an individual into custody.

The case is under investigation.

“Educating the public on how detrimental lasers can be to our aircrews is key.  Pointing lasers at aircraft jeopardizes the safety of the Coast Guard and commercial airliners and needs to be stopped,” said Capt. Nicholas Bartolotta, commanding officer Air Station Atlantic City.

Even the small laser pointers that are sold to the general public, when pointed at an aircraft, can have serious and disastrous effects on a pilots’ vision. There is a significant risk to flight safety, especially for helicopters working low altitudes and aircraft taking off or landing. If any aircrew member’s vision is compromised during a flight, Coast Guard flight rules dictate that the aircraft must abort their mission. Laser pointers can cause the pilot to see a glare, afterimage, have flash blindness or can even cause temporary loss of night vision.

Additionally, aircrew members are taken off flight duty for a minimum of 24 hours and must have their eyes dilated and be cleared by a doctor before flying again.  This temporary loss of crew has the potential to significantly affect the unit’s abilities to conduct search and rescue, training and homeland security missions.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates the manufacture of laser products and according to an FDA 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.

New Jersey State Law prohibits the interference with transportation vehicles including autos, aircraft or boats.  In addition, federal charges can be brought against the convicted person and can carry a sentence up to 20 years in prison in addition to fines.

Members of the public who witness someone committing this crime are strongly encouraged to immediately call 911 to report the incident.

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