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Calgary laser strikes endanger helicopter, passenger jet

Jan. 7, 2011, Calgary - Police are investigating after someone aimed a green laser at a media helicopter and at least two passenger jets as they flew over Calgary.


January 7, 2011
By CTV Calgary

The incident took place Wednesday evening and prompted police to hunt for the perpetrator by land and air. No one has been apprehended.

Investigators are analyzing video taken by the news chopper. They believe the laser may have originated near the Shawnessy shopping centre in the southwest part of the city, and they're canvassing a neighbourhood in an effort to find the suspect.

"This is a very serious incident and we view it that way," said Staff Sgt. Neil Murray. "Anyone that could have been hit with this laser could have impaired vision even for a short period of time, and could have created an aircraft accident."

According to one flight crew, the culprit may be an adult male with a dog who fled the area in an SUV.

Police don't know what the motive could have been. But they say if it's a prank, it's a poor one.

"The distraction part of it, especially during a critical phase of flight, can be catastrophic," said Cam Dutnall, chief pilot with the police force's air support unit.

He said if a laser comes through the cockpit's glass and hits the ceiling, it can reflect throughout the room.

"It's a very startling thing," said Dutnall, who has had a laser pointed at him twice while he was airborne.

Whoever is behind the prank could face a criminal charge of mischief or imperiling the safety of an aircraft — which, under the federal aeronautics act, carries a fine as high as $100,000 with a prison term of up to five years.

Such incidents have been on the rise across the country in recent years.

Three cases were reported to Transport Canada in 2006, nearly 70 in 2008, and 129 between January and August of 2010.

A man was charged in August after a police helicopter in mid-flight was struck by a laser. But most cases have gone unsolved.

Red laser pens, which are designed to be used for activities such as boardroom presentations, are sold in stationary stores. The more powerful green lasers are sold online and can strike targets several hundred metres away.

With a report from CTV's Janet Dirks and files from CTV Calgary