Massachusetts State Police are investigating after a laser hit a Boston Medflight helicopter last month. The FAA said the crew reported a green laser illuminated their helicopter while they were flying over Weymouth on September 23 around 10 p.m. The aircraft landed safely and no one was hurt.
“We were flying southbound at around 1,000 feet when a green laser temporarily tracked our aircraft from the right rear quadrant,” pilot Marc Scoville told Live Boston 617. “The laser was observed by one of our medical team members, but the laser did not strike any of the crew directly in the face or eyes.”
Had the laser struck Scoville in the eyes, the result could have been life-threatening. Pointing a laser at an aircraft can not only temporarily blind the pilot but in effect endanger the passengers on board and the communities on the ground. “Our aircraft are flown by a single pilot and obviously if the pilot is disabled, who’s going to fly the aircraft?” explained Rick Kenin, Boston Medflight’s Chief Operating Officer – Transport. “We would like to think this was an accident and people aren’t doing this as a criminal act.”
Kenin said accidents can happen, often times when children are playing with toys that have lasers. Many children don’t understand the serious safety threat the lasers pose to an aircraft. Kenin said this is why raising awareness about the dangers of lasers is critical. “It may seem like a toy, but it can have disastrous impacts on some operations in the airspace,” he said. “We think if they were aware that it could potentially bring down an aircraft, they might think twice about it.”
If shined directly into the pilot’s eyes, the laser can burn the eye and prevent normal vision. “If it’s a critical phase of flight, such as taking off or landing, it could potentially be severe,” Kenin said. In the back of the aircraft, a distraction caused by a laser can impact the medical care being provided to the patient, who is often seriously ill or injured. This is at least the third time this year a laser was aimed at a Boston Medflight aircraft. FAA records show laser strikes on July 5 and July 6 over Lawrence.
Kenin said if these laser strikes are intentional, he wants whoever is responsible to be warned, “we’re going to get you.” A task force of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies investigate laser strikes in the Boston area. People who shine lasers at aircraft face FAA fines of up to $11,000 per violation and up to $30,800 for multiple laser strikes. The FAA has issued $600,000 in fines since 2016, which includes $120,000 so far this year. Violators can also face criminal penalties. Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime.
Laser strikes increased last year despite the decrease in flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pilots reported 6,852 laser strikes to the FAA, up from 6,136 in 2019. The number of laser strikes reported last year was the highest annual total since 2016. So far this year, 6,725 laser strikes have been reported to the FAA, which is on pace to exceed last year’s increase.
Massachusetts State Police did not respond to a request for an update on the investigation into last month’s laser strike.