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US: UPDATED - Helicopter pilots injured in Florida laser incident

Two teenagers were arrested for shining green laser light at a Collier County (Florida) sheriff’s office helicopter at about 1 am on New Year’s Day. After landing, the two pilots “realized they both had ruptured blood vessels in their left eyes” and went to a hospital for treatment.

19-year old Hidalgo Moreno and 17-year-old Nicholas Ramos were arrested in North Naples and were charged with “pointing a laser light at a vehicle or aircraft operator causing injury” a Florida felony with up to a five-year prison sentence, according to the Naples Daily News. The teens told deputies “they didn’t realize it was not legal to point a laser at the helicopter and they were just playing with it.”
The helicopter was 500 feet in the air, and about 1/2 to 3/4 mile away (800 to 1200 meters) from Moreno’s home during the incident. A follow-up press report on Jan. 3 said the pilots were grounded, awaiting the results of medical evaluations which will “determine whether they will be able to immediately return to flying.”

[Although the newspaper story indicated that the pilots were wearing night vision goggles, they did not have them on during the laser exposure, a person familiar with the investigation told LaserPointerSafety.com. Also, it should be noted that visible laser light would not cause broken blood vessels on the surface of the eye (“red eye”). This would be due to rubbing the eye, or other non-laser irritation. Visible laser light is a potential hazard to the retina, and not to the surface of the eye.]

From the Naples Daily News (
initial report Jan. 2 2011, follow-up report Jan. 3 2011)
Thanks to Glen Moore for bringing this to our attention.

UPDATED January 18 2011: The grounded pilots were cleared for full duty on January 5. Although the youths were arrested on a Florida felony charge, a news report on January 18 said that no state charges had been filed against Moreno or Ramos. From MarcoNews.com. [As of July 2013, an online search by LaserPointerSafety.com was unable to find any additional action taken against the youths.]