CONWAY — Horry County officials will consider banning certain lasers after U.S. Coast Guard officials addressed the Horry County Committee of the Whole Tuesday and stressed that the Grand Strand has one of the biggest problems nationwide with green laser hits.
Paul Whitten, director of Horry County Public Safety, said there have been 70 strikes by green lasers on aircraft landing at Myrtle Beach International Airport since the middle of May.
That number of strikes has led to Myrtle Beach’s airport surpassing the one in Las Vegas as the No. 1 airport for laser incidents in the country, said Capt. Mike White, with the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Charleston.
“We’re at the point that we’re going to get somebody hurt or killed very shortly,” Whitten said.
Whitten said staff is looking at developing an ordinance that bans any laser with a power wattage greater than one milliwatt. He plans to bring a proposed ordinance before County Council at their Sept. 4 meeting.
County and municipal governments have been addressing the green laser issue over the last several weeks to try and come up with a solution. The talks came on the heels of the Coast Guard announcing that the Grand Strand is a high risk area and they will limit service.
In the past few weeks, there have been three cases where Coast Guard pilots were forced to land their aircraft during search and rescue operations after being hit with lasers.
Because green lasers are brighter, they have a stronger range, Coast Guard Cmdr. Greg Fuller told the County Council. Pilots who have been hit by them say they can be quite distracting.
They also can be dangerous. Fuller added that a direct hit by a green laser can cause permanent scarring on a person’s eye.
The Coast Guard is treating the Grand Strand as a hot spot because of the onslaught of laser strikes. Fuller told the council he gets a personal phone call from flight crews every time their assistance is requested in Horry County.
Fuller then makes the determination as to whether the crew flies immediately, or waits anywhere from an hour or the next day. If helicopter pilots are hit by green lasers during a search and rescue operation, they’re forced to land until they can be cleared by a physician to resume operations.
White said he started looking at the problem following a July 26 incident, when a helicopter was forced to land while searching for two men stranded in the middle of the ocean after their 19-foot catamaran overturned in unfavorable seas. Additionally, the crew of a rescue boat was hit by green lasers.
Fortunately, the story had a happy ending. The two men, Guiseppe Chillico, 49, of Myrtle Beach, and friend Keith Crook, 50, visiting from Beckley, W.Va., tied themselves together and swam about four miles to land. They came ashore unharmed at Apache Pier, near the Briarcliffe Acres community.
“I don’t get it. I don’t know what the appeal is,” White said. “The lasers aren’t toys.”
Whitten added that it’s not just aircraft pilots that are impacted, but also drivers on the roadways. Additionally, hoteliers are having issues with people shining lasers into guests’ rooms, he said.
“It’s everywhere,” Whitten said
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.