New rules coming for green lasers in the Myrtle Beach area

bdickerson@thesunnews.comDecember 29, 2012 

  • Top 10 in 2012 This is another in a series that examines news events that shaped our area and captured our attention for better or worse in 2012, and look ahead at what developments await in 2013.

Area governments are close to putting limits on green lasers after strikes on aircraft this year prompted rescue officials to limit service to the Grand Strand.

Horry County’s proposed ordinance is one reading away from adoption by the Horry County Council, and Myrtle Beach City Council also is pursuing restrictions on green lasers.

The move comes after dozens of laser strikes on approaching aircraft at Myrtle Beach International Airport during the summer and the U.S. Coast Guard limited service to the Grand Strand because it became classified as an active fire zone.

It was a dangerous time in 2012 for Coast Guard pilots who attempted rescue operations along the Grand Strand. Getting hit by lasers forced pilots to abort missions three times.

Now that the county is several months removed from the busy summer tourism season, reports of green laser strikers have decreased dramatically.

Mike La Pier, director of Horry County Airports, said a rough estimate is that there’s been only a dozen laser hits on incoming planes at Myrtle Beach International Airport since September.

Still, protocol remains in place.

“We still are following the same procedure we would during the summer, if we were flying up there,” said Cmdr. Brian LaFeever with the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Charleston.

LaFeever said it seemed like there were laser hits every week along the Grand Strand during the summer.

But it’s not simply a Myrtle Beach problem.

LaFeever said the problem with green lasers is something officials at the Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. have taken an interest in.

“It is being kind of evaluated at the headquarters level,” LaFeever said.

While officials in Washington are just now taking up the matter, Horry County Council is ready to take action now.

“Without question, we do (support the ordinance),” La Pier said. “It’s important to aviation. It’s important to the safety of travelers.”

The Horry County ordinance would limit the sale of green lasers to only those over the age of 18. Plus, the strength of the lasers couldn’t go above one milliwatt.

Those using lasers for professional purposes, such as educators, contractors and public safety officials, would be exempt.

Additionally, those licensed to own a firearm that has a laser sighting are excluded in the newest draft of the ordinance.

Council members began looking into limiting green lasers along the Grand Strand after reports came from the airport that 70 strikes were reported by pilots between May and August.

Also during the summer, there were 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 in August. Pilots who were hit by them said they could be quite distracting.

Coast Guard officials really 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 Briarcliffe Acres.

Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.

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