Sunday 18 February 2018

Air ambulance carrying sick child was targeted by laser aimed at pilots

Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

AN air ambulance was targeted by a blinding laser beam as it was transferring a critically ill newborn child to hospital.

The infant was being moved from Letterkenny to the Rotunda Maternity Hospital for urgent treatment when it was hit by the high-frequency green laser.

For those trying to pilot the aircraft, it was like "looking into a bright green sun".

It happened 10 minutes before the helicopter was due to land in Dublin at 10.10pm as it flew over Co Cavan on Wednesday night.

A doctor and a nurse from the Rotunda were looking after the newborn who was in an incubator at the back of the 12-seater aircraft. As the team were rushing the baby for life-saving care, the pilots had no choice but to continue their flight.

Pilot David Browne, a captain in the Irish Air Corps, said: "The (laser) strike lasted about a minute. First the cockpit was filled with an intense green light, it was like looking into a bright green sun. The laser then moved into the rear of the aircraft where the medical team were attending the infant.

"You have to remain professional and concentrate on the job and shield your eyes as best you can," said the pilot.

Laser strikes – particularly with the higher frequency green laser – are becoming increasingly common according to the Air Corp.

On this occasion, tragedy was narrowly avoided, as the strike occurred just before the pilots began using their night vision goggles.

"Literally another five minutes and our goggles would have been down and that would have increased the hazard hugely," said the 39-year-old. "My co-pilot had already tested his to see if it was dark enough to use them yet, but we had just enough light to fly without them."

The eyewear is designed to intensify any available light source – but are rendered useless when hit by laser beams.

"Not only are lasers temporarily blinding, they can also cause lasting retina damage," said Mr Browne.

The young patient arrived at the hospital and remains there, in a serious condition.

Irish Independent

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