Green laser forces helicopter search crew to land near SC coast

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GARDEN CITY BEACH, S.C. — The U.S. Coast Guard says it had to abandon another air search because of green lasers along the South Carolina coast.

A Charleston-based helicopter crew had just begun searching near Garden City Beach about 1:45 a.m. Wednesday when they were temporarily blinded by bright green laser beams and forced to land, officials said.

One crew member was hit in the eye and couldn’t fly again until Wednesday afternoon. The Coast Guard said it marked the third time in three weeks someone on the shore has shone a laser into a cockpit, hindering its searches in the Grand Strand.

Green lasers can temporarily blind pilots, especially when they’re wearing night vision goggles. In addition to that danger, the Coast Guard says the lasers are a hazard because it takes additional time and resources to dispatch new search teams after the first pilots have to land. In the most recent case, it took about two hours to send a boat crew to take over for the grounded pilots.

The Coast Guard has warned local governments they might have to limit search activities unless they can stop the problem. Cmdr. Gregory Fuller, the commanding officer at Air Station Savannah, said he requires his air crews to consider laser risk in the area before responding to a distress call.

“Every time we send our air crews to the Grand Strand, we’re telling them to fly into the equivalent of a storm, where it’s almost guaranteed they’ll be hit,” Fuller said.

“We’re simply asking the public to stop putting Coast Guard men and women in senseless and unnecessary danger.”

Shooting a laser at an aircraft carries penalties including fines and up to five years in prison.


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