A 19 Wing Comox search and rescue crew en route to perform a medical evacuation was struck three separate times Saturday from a laser on the ground, shortly after departure.
Flight safety officer Capt. Adam Rietman explained a crew from 442 Squadron was tasked on a mission to rescue an injured crew member from a bulk carrier 550 km west of Vancouver Island when a green laser was shone into the cockpit.
It was the first time the crew had experienced a laser sighting, he noted, and added it was particularly distracting during nighttime flying.
“One of the main hazards is that it will mess (with the crew’s) night vision, which is super important while flying at night. If the laser is strong enough, it can lead to eye injuries, so the crew did report to the hospital and they got checked out, so they are safe to fly at this point.”
Reitman said this is the first incident at the base involving an aircraft and a laser, and that the crew followed protocol. After they protected their vision, they contacted the air traffic control tower. From there, the tower co-ordinated with military police and RCMP.
“… It is a federal offence to shine lasers at aircraft; it’s very, very dangerous for aviation safety.”
According to Transport Canada, when a laser is directed at an aircraft cockpit, depending on the intensity and distance from the laser source, the impact may range from distraction to temporary vision impairment to ocular damage.
In 2016, there were more than 500 reported incidents of laser strikes at aircraft. In British Columbia, the number has been steadily increasing since 2012; in 2016 alone there were 115 reported incidents, and up to Sept. 15, 2017, 31 have been recorded.
Pointing a laser at an aircraft is illegal and a criminal offence, and if convicted, an offender could face fines of up to $100,000, imprisonment of up to five years, or both.
Fred Bigelow, CEO of the Comox Valley Airport Commission said he cannot recall a previous laser strike towards a commercial or military aircraft in the area.
Reitman explained while they don’t have a source of the laser strike, sometimes green lasers are used by astronomy clubs to identify stars and constellations.
Transport Canada encourages anyone who wants to use a laser in the sky to complete a notice of proposal form (found on the Transport Canada website), and the department will consider permission or specify conditions of use.
“It’s definitely been an eye-opener at this wing,” said Reitman. “There’s a lot of laser incidents that have happened for general aviation and even for CF aircraft (which) hasn’t happened at this location thankfully … My main focus moving forward is to bring that information and awareness forward to the crews.”