HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Danger in the sky.
A Coast Guard crew aborted a mission after being "lased". It's the most recent incident in Honolulu - just one of two dozen this year.
It's a federal offense to aim laser pointers at an aircraft, but the Coast Guard says someone with a long-range laser targeted its MH-65 dolphin helicopter crew while they were on a night training mission on Tuesday. Authorities say that recklessness is putting people's lives at risk.
The four-man crew flew several hundred feet in the air - two miles off-shore of Oahu. Getting lased forced them to make an emergency landing.
"When the laser does hit the cockpit, it gets into the eyes of the pilot, and it creates blind spots in the eyes, and it does not allow them to look at the instrumentation," says commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Station Barber's Point, Capt. Timothy Gilbride. In Tuesday's incident, the Coast Guard says the pilot and co-pilot are okay, but the laser affected the flight mechanic and rescue swimmer.
It's not only the military, though. Police and fire departments own their own aircraft, and laser pointers not only risk their lives - they can also delay rescues. Commercial pilots have long complained about the problem. The Federal Aviation Administration says, nationally, lasing incidents have increased each year since 2005. It's a federal crime that's landed some behind bars for several years.
FAA spokesman, Ian Gregor, told Hawaii News Now, "Many law enforcement agencies, working with the FAA and with the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, have developed some pretty good techniques for catching people."
Honolulu's lasing incidents have actually declined in recent years. The FAA cites about two dozen reported cases - so far this year. In 2011, there were 36 cases – which was the 25th highest in the nation. But, look at 2010. 47 incidents - the 8th highest in the U.S. The improvement is promising, but the FAA still worries - lasers are very accessible on-line and in stores.
"The price of these devices is going down and the availability and the power of them is going up. So, in other words, they can reach higher in the sky," says Gregor.
They may seem pretty innocuous and cheap, but laserpointersafety.com says, while a laser beam may seem to end, it actually continues beyond what your eye can see - leading to potential pilot distraction, after-image, flash blindness, even temporary loss of vision.