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Thu, Feb 28, 2008

Albuquerque Police Helo Pilots Blinded By Laser

Suspects Thought It Would Be Funny

Police in Albuquerque, NM apprehended two men last week on charges of pointing a high-intensity laser at a department helicopter... the latest in a series of similar incidents nationwide, and the second time in three years a police helicopter has been targeted over the Southwestern city.

According to KRQE-13, two men pointed the construction-grade laser pointer at the cockpit of the Albuquerque Police Department's helicopter, Air One, as it was landing to investigate suspicious activity on the night of February 18.

Officer Tim Booth said he and a fellow pilot were surprised to see the blinding flash in the aircraft's cockpit. "We were struck with a high intensity laser," Booth said.

Booth maintains the helicopter could have crashed as a result -- but added both pilots knew how to handle the situation. "Momentarily both pilots are completely blinded," he told the television station. "As a result we aborted the landing, we divert our attention to strictly to the instruments and we climb to a safe altitude."

The helicopter later touched down safely. When officers caught the men, the suspects told police they didn't know the incident could have hurt anyone -- and added they thought it might be funny.

Police weren't as amused.

"It's very serious. Had we had an incident, had we had a mishap here, two individuals could have died," Booth said. "I don't know if the aircraft are just an attractive target but I think that people fail to realize how serious it can be."

In addition to possible local charges, the men also face the possibility of being prosecuted under the Patriot Act for domestic terrorism. As ANN reported, such was the case for a man in Medford, MA last December, after he shone a laser light at a State Police helo.

At least 12 other incidents of lasers being shone into aircraft cockpits have been reported in the past year. This latest example also builds a case for law enforcement pilots earning combat-duty pay when flying over the Duke City.

As ANN reported, a Bernalillo County Sheriff's Helicopter made a hard landing in a yard on the city's west side in August 2005, after coming under small arms fire from the ground. The two pilots onboard, Chris Holland and Deputy Ward Pfefferle, were injured when they were hit by shrapnel as the bullet entered the plexiglass bubble canopy, struck an anti-torque pedal, fragmented and bounced around the cockpit.

Police later arrested Jason Kerns, a 29-year old former USMC marksmanship instructor and self-described "sniper," who had initially told investigators he saw the helicopter go down.

FMI: www.cabq.gov/police

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