The chief pilot of the Great North Air Ambulance Servic has warned against the dangers of laser strikes after his aircraft was targeted while returning to base after a call-out.
Captain Jay Steward, GNAAS pilot, was flying back from the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle, to the charity’s base at Durham Tees Valley Airport at 5.49pm on Sunday night, when a laser beam was shone into the helicopter’s cabin from just south of Peterlee.
He said: “We had just taken off from the RVI and were 1.8 miles south east of Peterlee town centre when I saw a laser waving around in the air.
"You could tell the person using it was trying to locate us, and then one of the crew shouted ‘laser!’ and it shone onto the aircraft.
“Laser strikes are incredibly dangerous because it can cause temporary sight loss which can lead to the pilot losing control of the aircraft and putting themselves and the rest of the crew at risk.”
On this occasion the beam lit up the aircraft at a height of 1,800 feet but luckily it was only for a few seconds so it did not damage the eyesight of any of the crew.
It is the fourth time since November 2016 that the charity’s aircraft has been targeted by a laser, and the incident has been reported to the police and aviation authorities.
Captain Steward added: “They might think it’s funny and clever but it’s a serious offence.
"Recently a man who shone a laser at a police helicopter in Leicester was jailed for 20 weeks.
“We would ask people that if they see someone using a laser pen recklessly, or have any video evidence of it to call the police.”
The aircraft was returning to base from the RVI having airlifted a motorcyclist to the hospital.
The patient had sustained multiple injuries after being involved in a collision on the A68, near Corbridge, in Northumberland.
He arrived in a stable condition.
UK Parliament is currently considering a new bill aimed at introducing tougher punishments for those found guilty of such laser strikes.
The Laser Misuse Bill, which is due to be debated in the House of Lords next week, would introduce maximum five year jail terms and unlimited fines on those who have been found to have threatened aircraft safety.
“It can’t come soon enough,” added Captain Steward.