A Coast Guard helicopter crew was targeted three times during a span of four days by an individual or individuals with a laser pointer near New Orleans.
The first of the three lazing incidents began when an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans was conducting security patrols in support of the Super Bowl when the helicopter was targeted with a laser pointer near Chalmette High School, in the evening of Jan. 30.
The helicopter crew would later have a laser shined upon them night of Feb. 1 near the Colonial Golf and Country Club in Harahan. The crew had a laser pointed at them near the vicinity of the same location the following night.
The two members had their vision temporarily affected but were later cleared to return to flight status.
The Maritime Security Operations Center, Coast Guard Investigative Service, Air Traffic control and local law enforcement have been briefed on the incidents.
The case is under investigation.
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 pilot's 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 ability 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.
Federal charges can be brought against the convicted person and can carry a sentence up to 5 years in prison in addition to fines up to $250,000.
Anyone with information regarding these incidents should contact the Coast Guard Investigative Service at (504) 589-4929. Members of the public who witness someone committing this crime are strongly encouraged to immediately call 911 to report the incident.