Southwater laser puts ‘many passengers at risk’

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EXTRA police patrols were sparked around Southwater last week after two pilots reported laser lights being shone at their aircraft.

It is a serious offence to point a laser at either air traffic or road vehicles, as the dazzling effects of the light can cause pilots or drivers to lose control.

It is believed the lasers were shone from the Country Park area, and were targeted at two Easyjet flights, one inbound and the other leaving Gatwick Airport at about 11pm, Thursday August 25.

A spokesperson for Sussex Police said people shining lasers at aircraft are ‘putting many passengers and members of the public at risk’.

A briefing document published earlier this year by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) warned: “Aircraft are particularly vulnerable during critical phases of flight, such as take-off and landing..”

It continued: “To introduce an intense light into a darkened flight deck is hazardous in the extreme. A laser beam can refract through tiny abrasions on the exterior of the cockpit windscreen and thereby illuminate the entire flight deck.

“An aircraft on final approach at 1,000ft has around one minute before it reaches the threshold of the runway and touches down. A pilot dazzled by a laser can be blinded for up to ten seconds followed by over a minute of impaired vision. The risks to passengers and crew are all too obvious.”

However, such incidents in the Gatwick area have increased twenty-five fold in the last few years with just one report in 2007, but more than 25 so far this year alone.

The CAA states that the ‘malicious use of lasers against aircraft is of escalating concern to the aviation industry and law enforcement agencies’.

The ‘phenomenal growth’ which the organisation says is continuing to occur nationwide can be mainly attributed to the increased availability and reduced cost of laser pointers, which in red, green or violet can be purchased online for less than £20.

The portable battery-operated devices, often no larger than a pen, can project a high powered beam of light for several miles.

Following the Southwater incident, Sussex Police appealed for witnesses. Anyone with information can contact the force on 0845 60 70 99, quoting serial 1761 of August 25.