Green lasers halt Coast Guard air searches

A green laser shining on an aircraft. Photo courtesy of Department of Transportation.

A green laser shining on an aircraft. Photo courtesy of Department of Transportation.

The SAR alarm is sounded and a Coast Guard helicopter is launched. As the aircrew arrives on scene, ready to search for the boater who needs their help, a green light enters the cockpit. It’s a green laser being shined from land and its blinding beam forces the pilots to head back to base, unable to finish their search.

This life-threatening incident is not a made-up story but something happening to Coast Guard aircrews along our nation’s coasts as they take flight to save lives.

An MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter crew from Air Station Savannah, Ga., transits the Grand Strand, N.C. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Daniel Lavinder.

An MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter crew from Air Station Savannah, Ga., transits the Grand Strand, N.C. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Daniel Lavinder.

When a laser is directed into an aircraft, the aircrew has to stop searching immediately and land. The crew is grounded until each person has an eye exam and is cleared by a flight surgeon. This process can take up to 24 hours, depending on when and where the incident occurred. Additionally, there is typically a two-to-three hour delay to get a new helicopter and crew on scene to resume a search.

“People need to consider how many lives they’re putting in danger before they choose to point a laser light at an aircraft,” said Cmdr. Gregory Fuller, commanding officer of Air Station Savannah. “It’s not only incredibly dangerous for those in and around the aircraft, but it also keeps our aircrews from responding during maritime emergencies. This isn’t something we take lightly.”

In one recent case, a Coast Guard aircrew still had 40 minutes before their search for the source of mayday call was complete, when they were forced to land early because of a laser light.

In another case, an aircrew from Air Facility Charleston, S.C., had just arrived at an area called the Grand Strand to start a search. As they began, a laser hit the aircraft, forcing the aircrew to land.

A boatcrew from Station Georgetown was launched to take over the search; however, due to the distance from Georgetown, the boatcrew didn’t arrive at the search area until two hours after the helicopter departed the scene. The source of the flares was never located.

“We’ve been very fortunate that the green laser incidents haven’t yet resulted in tragedy,” said Fuller. “But every time we send our aircrews to the Grand Strand, we’re telling them to fly into the equivalent of a storm, where it’s almost guaranteed they’ll be hit. We’re simply asking the public to stop putting Coast Guard men and women in senseless and unnecessary danger.”

Since 1963, Air Station Savannah has provided search and rescue coverage 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for 450 miles of shoreline.

Since 1963, Air Station Savannah has provided search and rescue coverage 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for 450 miles of shoreline.

This is a growing problem, and one in which the Coast Guard needs the public’s support. The Federal Aviation Administration reports laser illumination events rose 902 percent from 2005 to 2011. Coast Guard crews at Air Station Savannah have experienced six separate incidents in the past year and a half alone, four of which occurred during searches for mariners in distress.

In addition to the threat on aircrew safety, shining any laser at an aircraft is a federal offense. Prison terms from recent cases have been as long as five years with fines of up to $11,000.

Shining a laser light inside an aircraft puts the lives of the pilots, crew, citizens on the ground near the aircraft, and boaters in distress at risk. You can do your part by reporting any suspicions or reports of incidents to the Federal Aviation Administration. By spreading the word about these dangers you can keep our aircrews safe and ready to fly.

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  • Mariner719

    Never in an aircraft, but I had one of these thing turned on me one evening when I was out running. I saw the dot on the wall next to me, saw the house and window it was coming from, and called the cops. They had something to say to the homeowner’s teenage son, who thought he was funny…yeah, real f**kin’ funny. Good luck in jail.

  • http://twitter.com/wmeahan Bill Meahan

    Whatever the intent, the _effects_ of these laser incidents is indistinguishable from terrorism. They disrupt normally-occuring operations, sow fear and endanger many.

  • DTS

    These are great tools for teaching astronomy – we use them in Scouts all the time. But I tell the boys “I catch you mis-using this thing and you’ll scrub every pit latrine in camp with a q-tip for the rest of the week.”

  • mrgrinch464

    The Coast Guard has the Power of Arrest, so send the CGIS to find their asses and haul them in for attacking a military aircraft. Screw these little punks who think just because they are on vacation they can do what ever they want to.

  • scouter409

    I’m a CG vet, a one-time pilot and a Scoutmaster. The green lasers are great for pointing out stars on campouts, but I have ONE simple rule – NO ONE handles the laser but ME. Period. And if anything even LOOKS like an aircraft, the pointer goes off.

  • Tom Williams

    H.R. 386 “Securing Aircraft Cockpits Against Lasers Act of 2011″ passed
    the U.S. House of Representatives on February 28, 2011 and is moving on
    to the Senate for approval. The bill specifically exempts “an individual using a laser emergency signaling devices to send an emergency distress signal.”
    Greatland Laser has sold it’s patented Rescue Laser emergency signaling
    devices throughout the world for the past 10 years. We have never had a
    safety issue with the products. Rest assured that it continues to be
    legal to use your Rescue Laser to signal an aircraft in an emergency.
    For an explanation as to why the Rescue Lasers are safe when a standard
    laser pointer can cause problems,

  • Tom Williams

    Search and rescue lasers are different from pointing lasers. In order to signal at a distance with a laser pointer, you would have to
    accurately hit your target in the eye in order for them to see you. Rescue lasers draw a line which fans out the further it goes. At 16 miles,
    you have a 6,000 ft. long fan of light with which to hit your target.

  • Bob

    At least one company is being put out of business right now for fear their product could harm a child, if swallowed. Magnets that, haven’t caused anyone serious harm have been pulled, yet lasers are endangering pilots and crews over and over and there is no response, no action?! I find that rediculous and more proof that the magnets are a polital driven mess.

  • nick

    We have a laser onboard our helo that cannot even be used by us unless we have eye protection. Eye lesions (imagine the fluid in your eye boiling) can be received from 16 miles…just the threat of this in retalliation should be sufficient to stop these jackasses.

  • mindy

    Aww who would want to hurt a Coast Guard helicopter

  • baseball41

    What would possess somebody to do that?

  • Mouse

    Most times it is some little turd who could care less. I ahve had one pointed at me while I was driving down the road. The ONLY people who should own these lasers are Hunters, Police, and the Military. I believe people should go through a background check and be at least 18 before they can buy any laser.

  • take this article down

    Great, so now every drug runner out there is going to have a laser onboard thanks to this article, nice job coast guard

  • J

    Just out of curiosity is there a recorded incident of a laser actually harming a pilot or crashing a plane?

  • Bk

    Can anyone tell me if the green laser is from rescue laser flares or just the pen lights in the hands of miscreants? Would the Coast Guard cease a rescue attempt if the rescue flare hit the interior of the cockpit?

  • Daniel Stolte

    You called the police because a teenager pointed a laser pointer at you while you were out jogging? You gotta be kidding. How about just having a word with the parents? (shake head)

  • Daniel Stolte

    I don’t think the drug runners needed this article to figure this out. :-)

  • Phosphor Dot

    I think cops showing up will make a much bigger impression on this kid than a complaint from a stranger. Judging by the way a lot of kids act these days, the parents probably wouldn’t even do anything to their darling, innocent boy. (shake head)