CLEVELAND - The Coast Guard announces Thursday a $1,000 reward for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the individual or individuals responsible for the illumination by green laser of a Coast Guard helicopter near Muskegon, Mich., in August.
This incident is just one of many recent incidents that endangered the safety of Coast Guard aircrews as well as those of other agencies.
At about 9 p.m. on Aug. 17, an MH-65C Dolphin helicopter crew flying out of Coast Guard Air Facility Muskegon, was conducting training with a Coast Guard smallboat when a green laser was directed toward the helicopter from shore.
At about 10:30 p.m., the coxswain, or operator, of the Coast Guard smallboat again spotted the laser illuminating the helicopter, this time appearing to track the helicopter as it moved. The source of the laser was traced back to Pioneer Park in Muskegon, where a group of individuals was observed around a campfire flashing a pattern of light signals with a red light. When the Coast Guard smallboat crew approached the shoreline and illuminated the group with a spotlight, all of the individuals scattered and fled the area.
This incident follows a previous incident on the Great Lakes, in which a Coast Guard helicopter was illuminated by lasers originating in Canada.
Green lasers present a significant risk to flight safety, especially for helicopters working at low altitudes and aircraft taking off or landing and for boatcrews operating at night. If any aircrew member's vision is compromised during a flight, Coast Guard flight rules dictate that the aircrew must abort its mission. A delay during a search could result in the death of the person or people the Coast Guard is attempting to rescue.
Cmdr. Joseph Deer, commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Station Detroit, the unit that staffs Air Facility Muskegon during its seasonal operational period every summer, is concerned with the risk posed by lasers on the Coast Guard air operations in the area.
"We've been very fortunate that the green laser incidents haven't yet resulted in tragedy," said Deer. "But, whoever is committing these crimes is endangering the lives of their fellow citizens, as well as the aircrews performing training and rescue missions. We're simply asking the public to help us put a stop to this reckless behavior by reporting it immediately if they see it happening."
Members of the public who witness someone committing this crime are strongly encouraged to immediately call 911 to report the incident. Anyone with information about this particular case can contact the 9th Coast Guard District Command Center emergency line at 1-800-321-4400.
The Federal Aviation Administration reports laser incidents rose 902 percent from 2005 to 2011. Shining any laser at an aircraft is a federal offense under 14 CFR 19.11. Several people have been convicted under this and similar state laws. These convictions have resulted in prison terms as long as five years, fines of up to $11,000, and five years probation.