Life Force pilot reports a laser incident Oct. 1

By | October 4, 2018 8:05 am

A $500 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for shining a laser into the eyes of Life Force 2 pilot Phil Swafford.

At approximately 12:30 a.m. Oct. 1, 2018, Swafford was flying the Life Force medical helicopter in the vicinity of Golden Mountain Road and Kens Lane, two miles north of White County Fairgrounds. Swafford stated someone on the ground used a high-powered laser to blind him and his paramedic. After contacting the White County Sheriff Department, deputies went out to investigate the scene. The deputies reportedly found the only people living close to the area where the incident took place were an elderly couple. The couple was quickly ruled out as suspects.

“The White County Sheriff’s Office contacted the Federal Aviation Administration in order to aid in further investigation of the complaint,” said Cami Howard, White County Sheriff Department communications coordinator.

Aiming a laser at an aircraft, according to the FAA, is called “lasing” and is a federal offense. They insist many high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots. Capt. Robert Hamilton with the Airline Pilots Association International, in an FBI simulation interview, stated he has been the victim of lasing, and he expressed the dangers of it.

“It is a tremendous distraction within the flight deck and a very real safety hazard,” said Hamilton. “It brings the real possibility of having an aircraft accident.”

According to the FAA, what looks like a small beam of light on the ground expands as it goes farther out, essentially widening over distance. By the time it hits the cockpit of an aircraft, the beam of light has turned into a two-foot wide hazard. This light can fill up the cockpit and disorient the pilot. The hazard becomes more dangerous within the bubble canopy of a helicopter cockpit. The bubble canopy is the glass encasing of an aircraft that allows the pilot to obtain a 360-degree view of the sky.

According to a five-year study and report done by Van B. Nakagawara, Ronald W. Montgomery, and Kathryn J. Wood, with the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute:

“The principal concern is the effect laser illumination may have on flight crew personnel during landing and departure maneuvers when procedural requirements are critical. Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) require a “sterile cockpit” (i.e., only operationally relevant communication) below 10,000 feet to minimize distractions and reduce the potential for procedural error.”

The FAA encourages anyone who has been the victim of a lasing incident or has witnessed a laser being pointed at an aircraft, to please contact their offices immediately. Anyone can go to laserreports@faa.gov to fill out a questionnaire about the incident. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can do so under the Whistle Blower Protection Program.

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