A laser beam was directed at an Air New Zealand flight approaching Blenheim on Monday night.
The pilot of a Beech 1900D flying from Wellington to Blenheim with 19 passengers aboard was struck by a green laser beam about 6.30pm, police say.
He was sitting on the left side of the cockpit and hit by the laser in his left eye.
Constable Andrew Holdaway, of Blenheim, said two passengers on the plane reported seeing the laser beam come from the area of central Blenheim around Whitney St and Maxwell Rd.
Police were looking for the culprit and want to hear from anyone with information about the incident, Mr Holdaway said.
Civil Aviation Authority corporate communications manager Mike Richards described the incident as very serious.
"Laser illumination of aircraft can cause distraction, disorientation and discomfort for pilots resulting in a potentially hazardous situation during critical phases of flight," he said.
Anyone who pointed a laser at an aircraft could be charged under the Civil Aviation Act with causing unnecessary danger.
The maximum penalty for this offence was up to 12 months' imprisonment, or a fine of up to $10,000.
Flight crew should report incidents by radio to the appropriate air traffic control unit as soon as possible, Mr Richards said.
Prompt reporting allowed the unit to alert other pilots to the hazard and help police find the source of the laser transmission.
The pilot in command also needed to lodge an incident report with the CAA.
Marlborough Aero Club chief flying instructor Travers Tennant said getting a laser beam in your eye while flying was the same as having a bright light shine through your car window while driving.
It was very distracting and could affect a pilot's vision, making them see coloured dots, Mr Tennant said.
"The problem with laser beams is that whoever is aiming them can be miles away and can keep the laser on the cockpit for quite a long time until they are ready to land," he said.
"It's not just a flash but can last the whole way down.
"That's why you have two pilots."
A man was found guilty in 2009 of criminal nuisance after he shone a laser into the control lookout of the Arahura and Kaitaki ferries in Tory Channel in September and October 2007, endangering the public. He was sentenced to 300 hours' community work.
It was the first time someone had been convicted of shining a laser at a passenger boat in New Zealand.
Also in 2009, a man who shone a laser pointer at a Mt Cook Airlines flight as it approached Wellington Airport in March 2008 was fined $1500. The pilots reported the cockpit filling with a bright green flash of light , forcing them to shield their eyes.
WHO USED THE LASER? If you know call police on 03 578 5279
- The Marlborough Express