A new focus today on safety when it comes to interfering with medical helicopters when they are on the job. The issue came to light this week when a medical helicopter was flying in to pick up a UTV crash victim in south-central Wisconsin. The Columbia county sheriff says the helicopter was trying to land Tuesday evening when someone on the ground shined a laser pointer at the helicopter. The pilot suffered an eye injury and had to abort the landing. Tia Johnson learned just how dangerous this can be.
Theda-star flight nurse, Pam Withillen, says she’s not surprised by the incident that happened on Tuesday in southern Wisconsin. “I wish people would think about this with greater awareness and utilize them more responsibly.”
Withillen says she and Theda Star pilots have seen people pointing lasers at them while flying, but they’ve been lucky to not be affected. “That laser beam comes to your aircraft and either affects a staff member or pilot, it can affect your vision immediately or even a little bit delayed.”
Withillen says the medical choppers are used in critical situations to get people to the hospital. If they are grounded it could mean the difference between life and death. “We can usually cut the time that it takes in an ambulance by ground to one-half of that.”
Program manager, Kirk Vandenburg, says pilots use night vision goggles that actually amplify the light. “So just by the very nature of having a high intensity beam of laser shined into the cockpit it can just intensify even if it doesn’t shine directly into the eyes of the pilot it can disorient, distract their vision and make it more difficult to control.” He says it’s scary that people still want to shine lasers at flight crews. “The main goal is returning home safely and lasers impact that safety.”
Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime. It means up to $250,000 and a maximum of five years in jail time — or both.