News Local

OPP seek laser pointer suspect 0

By Sara Ross, Orillia Packet & Times

QMI Files - Police are looking for a person who shot a laser beam (similar to the one above) at an OPP helicopter last week in Severn Township.

QMI Files - Police are looking for a person who shot a laser beam (similar to the one above) at an OPP helicopter last week in Severn Township.

Police are looking for a person who shot a laser beam at an OPP helicopter last week in Severn Township.

"It's absolutely not a game," said Const. Ted Smith, one of the tactical flight officers with the OPP who was involved in the occurrence. "It's extremely serious with potentially lethal consequences."

On Oct. 7, after successfully rescuing an injured hunter who got lost in the Muskoka area, Smith and this partner were on their way back to the OPP General Headquarters' heliport in Orillia.

At about 9:40 p.m., while flying through Severn Township 2,000 feet above the ground, Smith spotted a green, high-intensity laser beam in the night sky.

"I noted a green laser was being shot up in the sky and warned the pilot," Smith recalled on Friday. "A moment later, it was shone on us, twice."

Smith, a 16-year member of the OPP, has been with the tactical flight unit for 18 months.

He runs the helicopter's police equipment and has never experienced a laser hit an aircraft before.

"It's instantly a major distraction," Smith said.

Lasers immediately put a glare on an aircraft's windows.

"It's very hard to see out of the helicopter," Smith said.

Moderate and high-powered lasers are potentially hazardous to eyes because they can burn the retina or skin, causing temporary or permanent blindness.

Visually, it would be like getting shot with a camera flash at a very close range.

Because Smith spotted the laser before it hit the cockpit, the pair were ready.

"In this case, it didn't create a flash blindness," Smith said. "In this case, I warned the pilot and he was able to look away."

Both men's eyes have been examined and at least for now, they're fine.

"(I) don't foresee any issues, but we took precautions for that," he said.

Smith likened the experience to driving down Highway 400 at 100 kilometres an hour and suddenly having a bright laser shine in your face.

"You're blinded for 10 or 20 seconds. In the driver's case they're able to pull over, but in our case, we're not able to pull over."

The OPP does not know if the laser flash was intentional.

"He shut it off after five or 10 seconds, wasn't persistent, but his motivations are unknown," Smith said.

If the person's intention was to aim it at the aircraft, that is a criminal offence which holds "very serious consequences," Smith said.

Individuals could be charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft or airport.

There are seven subsections in this section of the Criminal Code ranging from endangering a life, endangering an aircraft to committing an act of violence onboard a flight.

It is an indictable offence and the person is liable to imprisonment for life.

Under the Criminal Code, the individual could also face charges of mischief endangering a life and assault with a weapon.

The Aeronautics Act also holds several charges in relation to flashing a laser beam at an aircraft.

"Each of those charges has a penalty of a maximum of $100,000 and/or five years in jail," Smith said.

In July of this year, a man in Calgary was fined $5,000 after pleading guilty to pointing lasers into the cockpits of two media traffic aircraft.

Also in Calgary, on Sept. 18, laser beams were pointed at two commercial planes flying over the city.

The aircraft - one an air Canada Jazz and the other a WestJet flight -- were on final approach to Calgary International Airport about 9 p.m. when green laser beams were pointed at the pilots.

No injuries were reported.

In another occurrence, a 30-year-old Winnipeg man is facing charges of assault with a weapon and projection of a directed bright light source at an aircraft after he allegedly pointed a green laser beam at a police helicopter on Aug. 20.

The incident happened around 2:30 a.m., when members of the Air 1 chopper were searching for fleeing suspects. The helicopter pilot was struck by the laser four times, police said.

On July 29, a Durham Regional Police officer was sent to hospital with visual problems after a strong, green laser beam was directed at the cockpit at 12:30 a.m.

Six Oshawa teens were charged for allegedly zapping a police helicopter with a laser pointer last month in July.

The teens face numerous offences including assault with a weapon causing bodily harm, mischief endangering life and common nuisance, as well as other offences under the Aeronautics Act.

On August 19, the RCMP charged two men with assault with a weapon after they allegedly pointed a laser at an unmarked police boat on the St. Lawrence River in Cornwall.

The officers were sent to hospital with minor injuries from temporary visual impairment.

In Orillia, the OPP are encouraging all pilots to report these types of occurrences so they can be investigated and tracked.

"This isn't just something that happens to OPP helicopters, it's for the safety of all aircraft," Smith said. "(The person who flashed the laser) wouldn't have known it was a police helicopter."

Smith does not know how often this is happening locally.

"It doesn't happen very often, thankfully."

The laser from the Oct. 7 occurrence that hit the OPP helicopter came from a northwesterly direction, possibly in the area of Telford Line, Maple Valley Road and Swift Rapids Road in Severn Township.

Police are hoping the public can help in their investigation.

"If they're in the area they might have seen where it was coming from," Orillia OPP Const. Shannon Petryshyn said. "If they ever see this happen it's something to keep in mind and give us a call."

The OPP is asking anyone with information in regards to this on-going criminal investigation to contact the Orillia OPP at 705-326-3536 or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800- 222-TIPS. (1-800-222-8477), or submit your information online at www.sdm-crimestoppers.com.

- with files from QMI Agency


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