Laser targets Coast Guard pilot over Maui

A Coast Guard aircraft practicing approaches into Kahului Airport on Monday night was forced to return to Oahu after being targeted by a green laser pointer.

The co-pilot of the HC-130H Hercules aircraft was the only member of the flight crew affected, compromising his ability to fly the aircraft, the Coast Guard said.

The laser incident forced the crew to return to Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point.

Per Coast Guard rules, the co-pilot was grounded for at least 24 hours and required to see a flight surgeon, said Lt. Casey Corpe, Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point public affairs officer. He has been cleared to fly again.

“Whether this was a malicious or just an irresponsible act, it is critical that the public be made aware of the seriousness of lasing an aircraft,” said Corpe. “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.”

He said this was the second green laser incident involving Coast Guard aircraft flying in Hawaii in the last six months.

Laser pointers can cause glare, after-image, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision, which poses a danger to the crew. If any aircrew member’s vision is compromised during a flight, Coast Guard flight rules dictate that the aircraft must abort its mission. This hinders the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to people in distress, conduct training and other essential missions, the Coast Guard said.

According to a Food and Drug Administration Consumer Safety Alert, overpowered green laser pointers may be modified to emit more radiation than originally intended. These overpowered green laser pointers are a serious concern because they can cause permanent eye damage. The FDA regulates the manufacture of laser products.

The main commercial use of green lasers is by astrologers pointing out constellations, said Corpe. A different type of green laser also is used in rescues and is an exemption to federal law.

It is a federal crime, as well as violation of most state laws, to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. Corpe noted a case in Dallas on Monday where a 22-year-old man was arrested for pointing a laser at a police department helicopter.

Published reports indicated that the man also faces federal charges that could land him in prison for up to five years and he could fined $250,000.

“They are cracking down on it,” said Corpe.

In fact, an individual currently is working with Coast Guard Investigative Services on the other laser case on Oahu, he said.

People witnessing the Kahului laser incident are strongly encouraged to call 911 to report the incident.

For more information, contact Corpe at (808) 682-2750.