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US: 198 calls to police about lasers in 3 months; Coast Guard "cracking down" in Myrtle Beach

Despite anti-laser pointer ordinances in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, police have responded to 198 reports of laser misuse between May 1 and July 31 2012. A police spokesperson said this keeps police away from other, more important business. He said one problem is informing the many visitors about Myrtle Beach’s restrictions. For example, anyone shining a laser at persons or aircraft can be charged with a misdemeanor.

The local Coast Guard echoes the concerns. Twice in two weeks, search and rescue missions were ended prematurely because of lasers being aimed at helicopters. (See a report here.) Under Coast Guard regulations, after laser exposure the aircraft is grounded and the pilots are medically evaluated before being allowed to fly again.

The Coast Guard issued a letter asking the public to stop aiming at aircraft, and saying that they want to enforce South Carolina’s state law against lading aircraft. The letter is reprinted below (click the “Read More” link).

From WMBF News. This is part of continuing stories at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach.

Text of letter released around July 31 2012 from Capt. Michael White, commander of Coast Guard Sector Charleston, and Cmdr. Gregory Fuller, commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Station Savannah.

The widespread use of green laser toys by party-goers along Myrtle Beach piers and beaches is disrupting Coast Guard rescue efforts and endangering helicopter crews. If the Coast Guard is going to continue rescue operations along Myrtle Beach shores, the reckless behavior of shining green lasers at our helicopters must stop.

Twice in the last two weeks, our Coast Guard helicopters were grounded in the middle of rescue missions when the flash of green lasers hit pilots searching for people in distress. The popular green laser toys, sold widely at beachfront shops, may seem fun or cool but create a serious hazard for our crews and force them to abandon their rescue missions.

When Coast Guard helicopters are airborne the crews are simultaneously flying the aircraft and visually searching out the windows. Once a laser hits an aircrew it can cause temporary blindness making it impossible to do both.

To ensure their safety, our aircrews affected by laser lights must land immediately and can only return to the mission after being cleared by a physician. Depending on the severity of the exposure they may be grounded, leaving a distressed or injured boater to wait for a rescue helicopter that is no longer coming to their aid.

After six such laser groundings over the last 18 months, not including the two most recent incidents, we can no longer passively absorb the risks. The possibility of not saving people in distress or losing a Coast Guard aircrew is now too great. So, we are aggressively pursuing landside enforcement action and risk management policies that would limit rescue efforts until the safety of our crews can be assured.

As of February 2012 people caught shining a laser light directly at or in the path of an aircraft face up to five years in prison and an $11,000 fine. Locally, Myrtle Beach prohibits the possession of laser pointers by minors.

Our rescue crews are devoted to saving people on the sea, often at great risk to themselves. But the reckless behavior with green lasers frequently occurring along Myrtle Beach compels us to act. We need community leaders, businessmen, law enforcement officers and parents to spread the word. Stop using green laser pointers improperly so we can focus on rescuing people who need our help. A party trick or prank could one day cost the lives of an aircrew or the mariner they seek to find and rescue.