Community work for pointing laser at police helicopter

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 10:31 07/03/2013

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Two young Auckland men found guilty of pointing a laser at a police helicopter have been sentenced to community work.

Michael Josh O'Hare-Knight, 21, and James John Spiers, 19, were sentenced in the Auckland District Court this morning by Judge Nevin Dawson after being found guilty at trial of one charge each of causing unnecessary danger to an aircraft.

On May 7, 2011, the two men pointed a high-powered laser at a police Eagle helicopter from a party at Asquith Ave, Mt Albert.

Both men denied the charges, went to trial and were found guilty in November last year.

During the trial, the court heard the Eagle helicopter was targeted by the laser light at least a dozen times, flooding the cockpit with green light and briefly blinding the pilot.

Sergeant Grant, who was in the helicopter at the time, said he used a mapping system on board the aircraft to track where the strike was coming from, despite the dangers posed by the laser.

"We have sworn an oath and have a responsibility to the aviation community to keep the skies as safe as possible and we have to balance that with the need to keep ourselves safe," said Grant.

He started recording the laser strikes using the "Flir" camera system once the source was located.

A video taken from the helicopter, and shown in court, showed a group of around 20 people gathered on the back deck of the Mt Albert home. A laser is shone at the helicopter at least half a dozen times from the
left-hand side of the deck.

Police ground crews were dispatched to the address and arrested the pair.

The men said they thought it could be "a fun thing to do" and they did not know it was an offence.

A police prosecutor said the act was dangerous as the helicopter was flying above a densely populated area and it did not take long for a helicopter to go out of control if the pilot was blinded.

A defence lawyer said Spiers' offending was the "impulsive" act of a 17-year-old boy acting under the influence of peer pressure.

Judge Dawson said the offending was reckless and dangerous. "People need to get the message this offending is not just a foolish prank."

O'Hare-Knight was sentenced to 160 hours community work and Spiers to 140 hours.

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