Thugs target air ambulance pilots in blinding laser attack

By Laura Larkin

from page one

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

"The laser then moved into the rear of the aircraft where the medical team were attending the infant," Mr Browne said.

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.


"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 Corps and the potential for tragedy is enormous.

"By the time a laser beam hits us in the air it is much bigger and stronger," said Mr Browne. "It is distracting and disorientating."

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," the 39-year-old pilot revealed.

"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 and are rendered useless when hit by laser beams.

"Not only are lasers temporarily blinding, they can also cause lasting retina damage," explained Naas native Capt Browne.

The helicopter was travelling at around 1,800 ft when it was targeted. The Augusta Westland 139 air ambulance landed and the patient was transported via a road ambulance from the Cathal Brugha barracks to the Rotunda. The patient arrived safely at the hospital where they remain in a serious condition.

A spokesman for the Irish Air Corp said it wasn't the first incident with a laser this year.

It is a criminal offence to direct a laser beam at a travelling air-craft. These potentially dangerous high-frequency green lasers can be bought for between €80 and €100.