CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CBS4) – A Flight for Life pilot and two crew members were rushed to hospitals after someone targeted their helicopter with a powerful laser pointer twice in the same night. Flight For Life pilot Eric Bellings is tired of it.
“It can really frustrate a pilot, and we all really deal with it on a nightly basis,” he said. “I don’t think the laser strikes are going to calm down until people realize that they are threatening our lives up there.”
Incidents with laser pointers have been serious for years, but now even more so as powerful lasers are getting marketed to the public, some of them advertised as powerful enough to start fires.
“And that’s the major fear right is to blind the pilot enough that they can’t control the aircraft and potentially end up crashing.”
The crew of three based in Pueblo was hit on Sept. 20 by a modest laser first.
“We were actually struck by another laser coming into St. Mary Corwin (Medical Center), but that laser was what I would call a cheaper dollar store, Walmart brand-type laser to maybe have a cat chase around.”
Later, after dropping a patient off in Castle Rock and taking off they were hit as they leveled off at about 1,200 feet over terrain.
“My crew member hollered ‘laser strike’ and the next thing we got struck again.”
This time it was green and intense. It lit up the cockpit and light sneaked through the side of Bellings’ goggles.
“You can’t see anything else… Kind of felt like sand in your eye and we had some swelling.”
They know within a block of where it came from, a residential neighborhood on the south side of Castle Rock, on the east side of Interstate 25. Catching people is a lot harder. It’s a federal offense, but not a state offense.
“Until the state itself decides to take action and start pursuing this a little bit and having some penalties for the people that are caught lasering aircraft I’m not sure we’re going to get the support that we need to back of the federal law to stop some of this,” said Bellings.
The FAA database of laser incidents has already reached 6,725 incidents by the end of September this year. That’s on a pace to exceed last year’s increase that was recorded despite a decrease in flights in 2020.
Incidents had been falling since a high of nearly 7,400 in 2016.
Bellings thinks the laser that hit them was tactical style or a stargazing laser, people are now using for that purpose, hopefully not mistaking aircraft for stars and planets. After reaching Pueblo they were checked out, but then called it a night.
“The next day all three of us went to eye doctor to have our eyes examined to see if there’s any permanent damage. We all had swelling. We all had red eyes. My crew members both had headaches from the laser strike.”
They were able to get clearance to return to work, but it was a close call.
“It eliminates me being able to protect my crew and get home safe to my family,” said Bellings. “Not only are they endangering my life they’re endangering my crew members lives. They’re endangering our patient if we have a patient.”