Laser Strikes Target Air Ambulance Flights In UK


Laser attacks on low-flying aircraft are not limited to the U.S. Following recent reports of aircraft targeted near Boston, local news reports in Yorkshire, U.K., have passed along an “urgent appeal” from the local air ambulance operator after what U.K. Yahoo News characterized as an “alarming spike” in laser-related incidents. Last Friday night (Sept. 22), a crew member on a Yorkshire Air Ambulance (YAA) helicopter suffered a burned cornea in one of three attacks that week.

Described as an independent charity organization, YAA has appealed for help in locating the perpetrators. Technical crew member Alex Clark was on board the helicopter during a positioning flight returning to its base airport in Wakefield. Clark is expected to make a full recovery, but YAA chief pilot Owen McTeggart said, “If we get a laser attack while trying to land at the site of an incident, it means we cannot land, and the injured person on the ground doesn’t get the care that we are there to provide. [Even if it does not strike a crew member’s eyes] it is a massive distraction for the crew during a critical stage of flight.”

McTeggart added, “I’m sure most people that point a laser at a helicopter think it’s just a laugh and no harm is caused. But it can, in some cases, have life-changing consequences for the pilot, the crew, and the patient in the back whose life they are trying to save.”

Mike Harrop, YAA Chairman, said: “Our crew shouldn’t feel fearful of flying on a shift at YAA, all because someone somewhere finds it amusing to shine lasers at aircraft, or they are ignorant to the dangers they are putting our crew in.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. Laser strikes have been a recognized threat for over 20 years and indeed the FAA did get out in front and address this via an awareness and education campaign describing the effects and reporting such incidents, but it seemed to stop their.

    My premise is the time is past due for development of mitigation techniques and procedures be developed and implemented.

    This might include standard phraseology for local controllers and pilots, modification of approach and arrivals to avoid reported incident arrival, approach, and runways in the hazard area, expedited LEO reporting for immediate investigation, and cockpit procedures.

    Over a decade ago we while being vectored for a visual approach to a CAT 1 equipped ILS runway in Class B at night, the controller gave us a traffic advisory for a Sheriffs helicopter operating below the final approach course due to laser activity.

    The FO was the PF, and we were left to develop on the spot mitigation techniques while descending to glideslope intercept altitude outside of the FAF, when the cockpit was illuminated with green light flashes.

    My immediate actions were to close one eye while while we drew the window shades, and as PNF I lowered my seat to its lowest point below the panel and windows, while instructing the FO to keep the automation coupled to the published minimums of 200 AGL. It became clear I did not have the self discipline to fly with one eye closed, I put on my non polarized sunglasses, and used my hand as field expedient Foggles. At about 600 AGL/two miles out I raised my seat, and opened the shades to join the FO again. We landed normally. While most certainly distracted, neither of us experienced retinal burns or any loss of vision during the event.

    The young FO looked at me like I was nuts, but the older I get the more the weight of the enormous responsibility we have for the safety of the 200 some souls on board grows tends to grow, as perspective tends to change with maturity.

    I remember reading the Sheriff actually caught the guy.

    A $20 set of anti laser glasses within reach would certainly have helped mitigate that particular threat, but as we all know, the regulations are not written in ink.

  2. The easily available powerful laser pointers on the market these days are pretty scary. Many of them can cause permanent vision damage in a fraction of a second. I don’t think “education” or PSAs are going to stop people from doing this. Depending on the person it is either an act of massive stupidity or malice to do it, and you can’t educate massive stupidity or malice away. Laser attacks on aircraft, and people in general, are becoming more common and need to carry stiffer penalties. If convicted you should face the same punishment as if you had shot that person or aircraft. The obvious danger to all aboard and on the ground involved with harming a pilot’s vision is one thing, but it also can end the pilot’s career instantly even if a safe landing is made. The amount of possible harm and the level of effort required to do it is way out of balance here, it’s far easier to hit an aircraft with a laser than a bullet. Attempting to blind someone, whether by stupidity or malice, is a serious and sick crime and should result in a severe prison sentence.