Laser strike temporarily blinds University of Utah AirMed helicopter crew member

Jan 25, 2022, 4:07 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:59 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A University of Utah AirMed helicopter crew called out a growing problem after one of their helicopters was hit not once, but twice with a laser beam from the ground.  

So-called “laser strikes” have become dangerously common across the country and here in Utah. 

Somebody holding a laser pointer on the ground may think it’s no big deal to point the beam at an airplane or a helicopter up the sky. However, this recent laser strike sent an AirMed crew member to the Emergency Room, and it could have caused a crash. 

“Having a laser specifically pointed at a team member’s face can impair their vision,” said Frankie Toon, AirMed Program Manager. 

It happened several weeks ago while the three-person crew was transporting a patient over Sugarhouse. 

“Close to a critical point in our flight pattern,” Toon said. 

The laser hit a medical crew member in the eye, temporarily blinding them. 

“The crew member did say that it was a much larger laser than they’ve ever seen before,” the program manager said. 

After the flight, the crew member was admitted to the ER, and released for full duty after being evaluated.  That person had blurred vision on the periphery of the affected eye for a week. 

“When something like this happens, especially during a critical phase of flight, the results can be catastrophic, not only for our patients, and our team members, but our communities, as well,” Toon said. 

Later that shift, the same crew reported another laser strike. 

“It was the same aircraft in the same area. So, they must have heard the aircraft, pointed the laser and then heard the aircraft again, and did it again, and that second strike is what caused the injury,” Toon said. 

Chopper5 has been struck by lasers several times, in recent years.  

Nearly 7,000 laser strikes were reported nationwide in 2020.  

The Federal Aviation Administration warns that offenders face hefty fines of up to $11,000 per violation and up to $30,000 for multiple incidents. 

“This is just really an unneeded distraction and a hazard that could be totally preventable if people are just not do this,” said the AirMed Program Manager. 

AirMed is now developing a special visor that would deflect the laser light and keep it from penetrating the eye. 

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Laser strike temporarily blinds University of Utah AirMed helicopter crew member