By ALAN GIONET
COLORADO (KCNC) — Colorado will soon get tougher on people who point lasers at aircraft, the result of several years of concern about the dangerous trend.
“It’s hard to catch them, but with the new legislation and the more resources that are out there now once we can we can actually find a spot, we have somebody to give it to now that has the ability to go act on it,” said Flight For Life pilot Mark Burrows.
The new law making it a felony will add to existing federal law against pointing lasers at aircraft. But police and sheriffs are often the ones going after people who do it, not the FBI, so having state law in place will allow them to do more than simply take away the lasers. Offenders will now face the potential of fines and jail time with the offense becoming a Class 6 felony in Colorado.
“Anything coming up at the helicopter I don’t generally like, lasers or bullets,” said Mark Burrows, a Flight For Life pilot who previously served as a helicopter pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan and survived being shot down in Iraq. Burrows keeps a database of laser incidents involving Flight For Life aircraft.
There have been 30 or 40 over the past two years.
“It tells us certain times of day where it’s happening, when it’s happening. If it’s happening from a certain spot all the time. We can help law enforcement narrow down when, what time of the day, who might be doing it.”
Nearly all the incidents he’s been tracking have been along the Front Range.
It’s been serious enough that one Flight For Life staffer is no longer in the air. “We have one of our crew members lose a third of their vision and can’t fly anymore.”
Lasers are not prohibited in the U.S. and there are now companies manufacturing devices powerful enough to point and circle stars. Some incidents involving aircraft likely have been in error, but Burrows says when they track and continue to interfere, it’s more insidious. Light scatters through windows in cockpits creating blinding glare.
“Once it strikes you in the eye it pretty much blinds you momentarily,” Burrows described.
The new law will kick in July 1 and pilots from commercial aircraft, medical helicopters and police helicopters are all hoping for more enforcement to reduce incidents and dangers.
“Even if it’s innocent, just don’t do it,” said Burrows.
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