Lasers aimed at planes over Hanmer

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 10:17 20/01/2014

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North Canterbury

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Green laser beams thought to be powerful enough to blind a pilot are being pointed at aeroplanes passing over the North Canterbury township of Hanmer Springs.

Police scoured two campgrounds east of the town after the latest laser strike about 10.30pm on Saturday, but did not find the "irresponsible" culprit.

The Air New Zealand A320, flying from Auckland to Christchurch, was at an altitude of about 26,000 feet and gradually descending when the pilot noticed a green light inside the cockpit, Senior Constable Chris Hughey said.

The light was powerful enough to affect both the pilot, who had already been hit a couple of times, and co-pilot.

"Whoever was holding the laser was successful at keeping the beam on them for 10 seconds. Fortunately they were at high altitude. If it had been targeted at low altitude, it could have blinded the pilot," Hughey said.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesman Mike Richards said pointing lasers at planes was a serious offence under the Civil Aviation Act. 

The offender could be charged with causing unnecessary danger, and face a term of imprisonment of up to 12 months or a fine of up to $10,000. 

"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. 

"I am pleased that swift action by the pilot in this case may lead to the offender or offenders being apprehended by the police."

Police searched two campgrounds below the spot where the plane was struck by the laser, but found nothing. 

"It is a dangerous game to be playing. We want this to stop. It's irresponsible behaviour from people who aren't thinking."

Hughey asked for anyone with information on the incidents to phone the Hanmer or Rangiora police stations.

New controls on importing, supplying and acquiring high-power laser pointers come into force on March 1.

It will mean people will have to apply to the Ministry of Health for approval to do so.

Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said earlier that the CAA reported about 100 laser strike incidents on planes each year.

"High-power laser pointers can cause eye injuries, even blindness, and skin burns. ACC accepts around 10 claims a year for these injuries," Goodhew said.

"They can also cause temporary flash blindness, which poses a serious risk if the person affected is a pilot or in charge of a vehicle or equipment.

"The new controls restrict access to these high-power laser devices to those who have a legitimate reason to use them such as astronomers."

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The new controls cover only hand-held laser pointers with a power output of greater than 1 milliwatt.

- The Press

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