Coast Guard seeks public information after laser strike hits Port Angeles aircrew

PORT ANGELES, Wash. — The Coast Guard seeks information from the public to locate a suspect or suspects who pointed a green laser light at a Coast Guard helicopter crew conducting training at Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles, Wednesday evening.

The MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew safely landed after they were hit by a laser multiple times. The aircrew conducted visual acuity tests with the duty corpsman and, after consultation with the flight surgeon, two of the three aircrew members were medically grounded until they received further examination by an optometrist.

The laser strike was reported to Air Station Port Angeles and local police by the aircrew. The laser light originated around 9 p.m. in the vicinity of 4th and 8th streets on the east side of Lincoln Street.

“These types of incidents can be very dangerous to the safety of our aircrews and always disrupt our ability to respond as a search and rescue asset,” said Capt. Mark Hiigel, commanding officer, Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles. “In this particular case, members of the aircrew were medically grounded, which resulted in Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, located in Warrenton, Oregon, becoming responsible for covering our area of responsibility until Port Angeles aircrews were medically cleared or replaced. We need the general public to understand that the dangers of playing with green laser lights not only degrade Coast Guard response capabilities, placing mariners at risk, but can permanently damage eyesight.”

Laser pointers can cause great danger to the aircrew due to glare, afterimage, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision. If a laser is shined in the eyes of an aircrew member, Coast Guard flight rules dictate that the aircraft must abort its mission.

Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a felony offense under 18 U.S. Code Section 39A, which states whoever knowingly aims the beam of a laser pointer at an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, or at the flight path of such an aircraft, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

Coast Guard Investigative Service agents are working with local law enforcement personnel to investigate the incident. Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact investigators at 206-220-7170.

For more information about laser safety and the effects of an aircraft laser incident, visit the Federal Aviation Administration’s Laser Safety Initiative webpage.

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