Police and air ambulance officials are reminding people not to shine laser pointers at aircraft.
Last year, 14 people pointed the beams of green light at planes and helicopters flying over Saskatoon, compared to three incidents in Regina. Many of the incidents, which are illegal, were against Saskatoon Police and STARS Air Ambulance craft.
“The first thing is you’re distracted… It takes over what you’re trying to do,” Saskatoon Police pilot Sgt Wade Bourassa said. “And the second thing is fear of personal injury.”
Green laser pointers, including dollar store varieties, have a tight light wavelength that can go on nearly forever without dissipating or losing its focus power. That means when a laser hits a plane, pilots are subjected to the full force of a powerful light that not only distracts them, but can temporarily or permanently blind them.
“Imagine piloting an aircraft being blinded and having to land that thing not being able to see,” Bourassa said, adding many pilots across Canada have lost their careers because of eye damage caused by laser pointers.
A distracted or blinded pilot also risks losing control of an aircraft which could not only endanger their life, but the life of passengers and patients on board, and people below.
Distractions can also endanger police and ambulance operations. STARS Air Ambulance Saskatoon aviation base manager Barry Tolmie said a laser pointer incident once forced them to turn back while searching for a possible person in the river.
“The lion’s share of these events are curiosity,” Bourassa said. “You put a green laser pointer in someone’s hand and the first thing they do is turn it on and see how far it goes.”
Because few cases in Saskatoon are malicious, police try to educate before pressing charges.
However, pointing a laser at planes could land those responsible in hot water under the Canadian Aviation Regulation Act. Potential penalties range from fines of $3,000 to multi-year probationsentences and incarceration. Charges could also include mischief, assault with a weapon and assault of a police officer.
“Lasers are good for what they’re designed to do. I have a laser level at home and it helps quite a bit,” Tolmie said. “But for people that are curious… especially at night time, for us flying, it can be a threat.”
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