'Idiots' making search and rescue more hazardous by shining lasers at helicopters

The Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTS) said they are aware of a report of the alleged use of a laser pointed at the crew of the Shannon based Rescue 115 helicopter.

The incident is understood to have occurred on Thursday evening of last week.

Rescue 115, which had earlier left its base at Shannon Airport, was hovering over the River Shannon in Limerick city searching for a female casualty reported in the water when a laser was allegedly pointed towards the aircraft’s cockpit.

A laser beam can refract through tiny abrasions on the exterior of the cockpit windscreen and thereby illuminate the entire flight deck. Shining a laser light at an aeroplane can have serious consequences on the safety of a flight, making it difficult for pilots to navigate.

When contacted, a DTTS spokesman confirmed the helicopter crew was “stood down” after the callout was deemed to be “a hoax” and that it,“does not comment on incidents involving lasers” out of concern it might lead to “copycat incidents”.

A member of a voluntary search group who responded to the river after hearing the helicopter, later wrote on Facebook:

As most of Limerick would have heard, Coast Guard helicopter 115 was over the river tonight as emergency services rushed to search for a reported person seen entering the water, as the search went on, 115 was stood down as certain individuals in the apartments overhead were shining lasers at 115, endangering the crew...

“Searching is hard enough, without idiots like this making the task more hazardous. Nothing was found, and search was eventually called off.”

The Department A source in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTS), said they were aware of a report of a laser been pointed at the crew of the Shannon-based “Rescue 115” helicopter, however they said the department “does not comment on incidents involving lasers” out of concern it might lead to “copycat incidents”.

Rescue 115, which had earlier left its base at Shannon Airport, was hovering over the River Shannon in Limerick city searching for a female casualty reported in the water when a laser was allegedly pointed towards the aircraft’s cockpit.

When contacted, a DTTS spokesman confirmed the helicopter crew was “stood down” after the callout was deemed to be “a hoax”.

A member of a voluntary search group who responded to the river after hearing the helicopter, later wrote on Facebook: “As most of Limerick would have heard, Coast Guard helicopter 115 was over the river tonight as emergency services rushed to search for a reported person seen entering the water, as the search went on, 115 was stood down as certain individuals in the apartments overhead were shining lasers at 115, endangering the crew..”

“Searching is hard enough, without idiots like this making the task more hazardous. Nothing was found, and search was eventually called off.”

Niamh Fitzpatrick’s sister captain Dara Fitzgerald and three other crew members, died in an unrelated matter, on board the Rescue 116 Coast Guard helicopter which crashed off the coast of Mayo. Niamh Fitzpatrick said that people needed to ask themselves:

Given that it brings a safety concern for aircraft, would you honestly aim that laser at the helicopter if you knew that it was heading out on a mission to rescue your loved one? Your brother, sister, friend?

“Would you continue that behaviour if your own mother or father was a member of the crew on board the helicopter? Or do you simply view it that these crews are random people who you don't know, so it doesn't impact you if there's an accident?”

Local voluntary and professional emergency services sources have recently criticised people taking photographs and and engaging in rubbernecking during emergencies on the river.

In 2014 the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act made it illegal to aim laser pens at aircraft. As of August 26 2016, there were 31 reports of lasers deliberately pointed at aircraft in Irish airspace.

Since the legislation was introduced, there has been a significant decrease in the number of laser incidents reported by Irish pilots in Irish airspace to Irish Air Traffic Control.

Gardai have been asked if they are investigating the latest alleged incident in Limerick.

- Additional reporting by Sarah Slater

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