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Air ambulance targeted by laser strikes: 'It's incredibly dangerous' - says chief pilot

Captain Jay Steward was flying to the charitys base at Durham Tees Valley Airport on Sunday night, when a laser beam was shone into the helicopters cabin.
Captain Jay Steward was flying to the charitys base at Durham Tees Valley Airport on Sunday night, when a laser beam was shone into the helicopters cabin.

The chief pilot of the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) has warned against the dangers of laser strikes after his aircraft was targeted for the fourth time.

Captain Jay Steward was flying to the charity’s base at Durham Tees Valley Airport on Sunday night, when a laser beam was shone into the helicopter’s cabin.

He said: “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.

This 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.

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.

GNAAS relies on donations to survive. To find out how you can help, visit www.gnaas.com.