Charge in laser case

A 43-year-old Richmond man is to appear in the Nelson District Court next month on a charge of endangering transport after he allegedly pointed a laser light at the Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter on its way back from a late-night mission.

Inspector Iain McKenzie, of Nelson, said today the court summons was laid on January 31 for the man to appear in court on February 11, after the incident around 2am on Boxing Day.

The rescue crew had been taking part in the search for tramper Alistair Levy and were returning to Nelson Airport when the helicopter was targeted with the laser beam.

Aiming a laser at aircraft is a criminal offence under civil aviation law because of the danger it presents to pilots. The Civil Aviation Authority said it could cause distraction, disorientation and discomfort for pilots resulting in a potentially hazardous situation during critical phases of flight.

The helicopter rescue crew used their onboard Forward Looking Infra Red Unit to track the light and a man has been charged with the offence.

Pilot Tim Douglas-Clifford said by using the unit he could see a person walking around the balcony of a house near Three Brothers Corner in Hope. Mr Douglas-Clifford contacted the police, then hovered over the property until they arrived at the house.

General manager Simon Duncan of Garden City Helicopters, which owns the helicopters operated by the Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter Trust, said while it was not appropriate for anyone to point lasers at any aircraft, it was "especially disturbing" for rescue helicopters to be targeted.

"Many are equipped with the technology to identify these people, and we trust the law will then deal with them accordingly."