GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — During a training mission over Northern Oakland County on May 24, Michigan State Police pilot Sergeant Cole Martin was flying Trooper 2, the call sign for one of MSP’s helicopters.
Suddenly, the cockpit filled with a green tinted light from below.
“As it hits our cockpit windshield, it illuminates the entire cockpit and under either night vision goggles or the naked eye, it can be blinding for a temporary time,” Martin told News 8 in a recent interview over Zoom.
Another night brought another dangerous flash from a handheld laser pointer. It’s happening more and more these days — ten times since Martin became a flying trooper and his third this year.
“We were over in Grand Rapids a couple of weeks ago and somebody got us again, so, it just never ends,” said a frustrated Martin.
What may look like an innocent, temporary flash raises all kinds of concern for pilots. As the light floods the cockpit, it can be disorienting, especially during takeoff and landings, where margins for error narrow.
“There’s a lot going on in those phases of flight. And any little distraction could potentially overwhelm the crew again, nobody wants to see a tragedy like that,” said Martin.
“We carry over 100 gallons of Jet A (fuel) when we first leave the airport, and if that happens over an urban area and we get into an unrecoverable incident, it could not only hurt us, it could hurt many families on the ground,” said Martin.
It’s not just police helicopters. Everything from airliners to puddle jumpers have been targeted.
Federal Aviation Administration records show there were 9,458 incidents reported last year. This year, over 2,500 were reported by the end of March.
“We’re a single pilot operation with two crew members, and if one is blinded and the other one’s not licensed to fly, do the math there. (You could) end up in a bad situation pretty quickly,” said Martin.
Troopers and Oakland County Sheriff’s Deputies were able to track down the person who shone the laser in the May incident. He’s a 53-year-old from Oakland County.
The FAA can levy fines as high as $11,000 for shining a laser at an aircraft.
Martin doesn’t know why people shine lasers at helicopters, but he has a few ideas.
“Ignorance seems to be the best answer at this point,” he said. “Maybe boredom during our time everybody was home. I really can’t explain it. I would love to have an answer and be able to stop it though … that’s for sure.”