The U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was grounded again Wednesday while searching for the source of three orange flares in Garden City Beach when a green laser temporarily blinded the aircrew, according to Jessica Potter, petty officer third class.
The incident was the third in three weeks that the Coast Guard search efforts were hindered on the Grand Strand due to green lasers, which impede the vision of crewmembers and make it difficult to safely operate both aircraft and boats, Potter said.
On July 26 the search for two missing boaters was hampered by green lasers between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. Both boaters, Guiseppe Chillico, 49 of Myrtle Beach, and his friend Keith Crook, 50, from Beckley W.Va. were able to swim to shore and were not severely injured.
A laser incident Wednesday grounded the helicopter that had just arrived in Garden City Beach from Charleston to start the search at about 1:45 a.m.
One crewman received direct laser exposure and wasn’t cleared to fly again until Wednesday afternoon, Potter said.
A boat to take over the search for the helicopter didn’t arrive on scene until two hours after the grounding of the aircraft. The search Wednesday morning ended without finding the source of the reported orange flares.
Cmdr. Gregory Fuller, commanding officer at Air Station Savannah, which provides Coast Guard air support for the Grand Strand, has deemed the entire Grand Strand very high risk and now requires aircrews to consider laser risk in the area before responding to a distress call.
"We’ve been very fortunate that the green laser incidents haven’t yet resulted in tragedy," said Fuller. "But every time we send our aircrews to the Grand Strand, we’re telling them to fly into the equivalent of a storm, where it’s almost guaranteed they’ll be hit. We’re simply asking the public to stop putting Coast Guard men and women in senseless and unnecessary danger."
That means the Coast Guard may not help search efforts on the Grand Strand because their rescuers safety is in jeopardy.
Fuller compared flying into places with lasers to traveling into storms while on rescue operations. Other areas, he said, have laser activity but it’s much more random, like lightning produced by a thunderstorm. If there’s a 100 percent risk of a flight crew getting struck by lightning – or lasers – they won’t fly.
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.