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Wednesday 17 September 2014

More than 170 aircraft struck by laser beams

By Laura Larkin

Published 14/07/2014 | 15:23

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11 July 2014; Captain David Browne, Irish Air Corps.  Air Corps Headquarters,Casement AerodromeBaldonnel, Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn
David Browne

Aircraft in Irish skies were targeted by potentially deadly laser strikes on more than 170 occasions in the last 18 months.

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The terrifying figure comes after an Air Corps helicopter transferring a critically-ill baby to a Dublin hospital hit by a high-frequency laser last week, temporarily blinding the pilots.

Now the Irish Aviation Authority has confirmed that it received reports from pilots of 158 such laser strikes in 2013.

According to the IAA it was one of the most common reasons for pilots reporting an incident during the year.

Separately the Defence Forces said that their airmen reported as many as 20 of the dangerous attacks so far in 2014.

The Air Corps have recorded 50 such strikes in total in recent years, with a spokesman saying there has also been a spike in reports of laser beam strikes around Dublin Airport by private airlines.

"Coming into land an aircraft would usually have one minute to descend 1,000ft and the blinding flash effect of lasers can last for up to a minute which is the entire land time," noted the spokesman.

The type of lasers that are being used to target Irish aircraft are high-frequency green lasers that can cost anywhere between €80 and €100.

It is a criminal offence to direct a laser beam at a travelling air-craft and prosecutions are made possible under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act.

'Fun'

"We can only assume they think it's a bit of fun and don't realise the dangers," David Browne, the Air Corps captain who was on last week's air ambulance mission.

He was flying the helicopter over Cavan, with the sick baby in the back, when the aircraft was was targeted by a laser beam last Wednesday.

Thankfully the baby was delivered to the Dublin Hospital safely, but Cpt Browne described flying against the beam as like "looking into a green sun".

The time-pressure that the pilots faced during the urgent neo-natal call-out last week prevented them from circling the area to pinpoint an exact location of the perpetrators so they could report it to Gardai.

"It used to happen mainly around Dublin but now it's spreading round the country," noted Cpt Browne who has 16 years flying experience with the Irish air corps.

The defence forces have warned people not to engage in the dangerous practice of tragting aircraft with lasers, pleading with them to allow emergency services to do their jobs safely. A statement said: "Our crews are proud to serve the people of Ireland and answer calls for assistance on life saving missions day or night without hesitation, please give them the respect they deserve and don't point lasers at any aircraft."

A measure making it an offence to dazzle an aircraft pilot with laser beams is set to pass the final stage of the Oireachtas tomorrow

The measure is part of the Safe Airports Bill legislation and conviction may lead to a fine of up to €50,000 or a jail term.

Evening Herald

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