Thursday, December 27, 2018

Med Flight rescue mission aborted, pilot injured after someone shined laser pointer at helicopter

A Med Flight helicopter takes off from the scene of a three-vehicle crash on Highway 33 east of Interstate 39 in August

A UW Med Flight pilot aborted a rescue mission on Christmas in southern Wisconsin and suffered an eye injury after someone shined a laser pointer at the helicopter.

The helicopter was attempting to land in Pardeeville to pick up a 17-year-old boy injured in an all-terrain vehicle crash when someone on the ground aimed a strong laser pointer at the rotorcraft, the Columbia County Sheriff's Department reported Wednesday.

The pilot, who was using night vision equipment, was injured and had to return to the UW Med Flight home base for treatment. Meanwhile, the crash victim, who suffered a head injury and broken bones, was taken to a hospital by ground ambulance.

While searching for the suspect with the laser pointer, a Columbia County Sheriff's deputy encountered unseen ice and suffered a lower leg injury that will keep him out of work for a while, said Lt. Wayne Smith.

"It's alarming because obviously, it's a serious injury if Med Flight is called," Smith said of the ATV crash victim. "They weren't able to treat the person, and now the Med Flight pilot got injured and so did a deputy. It just compounded itself."

The crash involving a side-by-side utility vehicle happened around 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Town of Scott, north of Pardeeville. UW Med Flight couldn't land at the crash site, so the victim was taken to Chandler Park in Pardeeville.

While the helicopter was trying to land at Chandler Park at 5:53 p.m., someone shined the laser pointer, injuring the pilot. The Med Flight helicopter couldn't land and returned to UW Hospital in Madison.

The park has been used previously as a landing zone for UW Med Flight, said Frank Erdman, UW Health critical care transport manager.

"When we're approaching that sort of landing zone, we take a couple of passes to see if there are any hazards or obstructions. While the pilot was doing that maneuver, he noticed the laser, which actually struck him in the face and eyes a couple of times," said Erdman.

Also on board were a flight physician and registered nurse who saw the laser's light but it did not hit them in the eyes. The pilot, UW Med Flight's only one, told Erdman he saw spots after his eyes were hit by the laser pointer. After returning to Madison, the pilot was treated and returned to duty on Wednesday.

If the suspect is caught, he or she could face federal charges of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, which is punishable by a maximum five years imprisonment and $250,000 fine, plus state felony charges of obstructing emergency or rescue personnel.

"Not only do we urge people not to do this, it's illegal to do so," said Smith. "Aside from that, it's just common decency and care for fellow humans."

The primary hazard of aiming laser lights at aircraft is from interfering with a pilot's vision especially during critical phases of a flight such as takeoff and landing, according to 

The FAA reported more than 5,000 incidents involving laser pointers and aircraft in the United States in 2015.

A 2016 study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology reported that laser pointers cannot permanently damage a pilot's vision. However, though no air accidents have been blamed on lasers pointed at aircraft, pilots have reported pain, spots in their vision and disorienting flashes.  

UW Med Flight transports 1,000 to 1,200 patients annually and flies in a 125- to 150-mile radius of Madison, though sometimes the crew is called to handle patients and incidents farther away.

"Even though (laser pointers) seem fairly innocuous, they can be dangerous especially when pointed at the eyes," said Erdman, adding that this was the first time a UW Med Flight mission was affected by them.

Columbia County Sheriff's detectives were working Wednesday to find the person who aimed the laser pointer. Anyone with information can call Crime Stoppers at (800) 293-8477 or Columbia County Detective Sgt. A.J. Agney at (608) 742-4166, extension 3318.

Original article can be found here ➤


  1. If I ever find someone doing that the law will be the least of their worries. Only a complete pos does something like that.