The crew of an Irish Coast Guard helicopter was targeted by a potentially blinding green laser as they searched for a missing family on Monday night.
The helicopter had been operating in the Cratloe and Woodcock Hill areas of Co Clare when the laser was aimed at the cockpit several times.
The Shannon based crew had been searching for a family of five holidaymakers who had become disorientated in the woods and unable to find their way out of the popular walking trail.
Rescue 1-1-5 had been using it’s powerful search light and infra-red heat seeking camera to try and locate the family while members of the Killaloe unit of the Irish Coast Guard carried out ground searches.
While the crew hovered over the area, they were targeted several times by a green laser and reported the incident to air traffic control.
The crew told controllers that the laser was pointed directly at them for a period of two minutes on one occasion. The pilot described the laser as “pretty massive” and appeared to be coming from the Cratloe area.
Air traffic controllers reported the matter to gardaí and also informed the pilots of passenger aircraft arriving at Shannon that the helicopter had been targeted.
A Coast Guard spokesman said: “Unfortunately this is not uncommon. We had another incident recently on the east coast. We take such incidents extremely seriously but all we can actually do is report them to gardaí in the hope that a patrol in the area can locate the culprits.”
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) confirmed: “Shannon Air Traffic Control received a report of a laser attack on a search and rescue helicopter at 23.15hrs on 25 August 2014. The IAA forwarded these details to An Garda Siochana.”
“Shining a laser at an aircraft can affect the safety of an aircraft, especially if the aircraft is at a critical phase, such as landing. While the majority of reported incidents have been found to have a low safety impact, pilots have reported flash blindness, glare and being distracted from lasers,” the IAA spokesman said.
Early last month, an Air Corps air ambulance transporting a critically ill baby from Donegal to a hospital in Dublin was struck several times by a laser.
Last year, there were 158 reported laser strikes on aircraft including passenger jet’s arriving at Irish airports.
50 of these incidents involved Irish Air Corps aircraft while garda air support helicopters have also been targeted in the past.
Laser pointers, which are widely available on the internet and can be picked up cheaply, particularly in many European holiday resorts, emit a dazzling red or green beam up to 20 miles.
The beam can temporarily blind a person and cause disorientation for a time.