Letters to the Editor

Lasers disrupt rescues, put Coast Guard and boaters at risk

The widespread use of green laser toys by party-goers along Myrtle Beach piers and beaches is disrupting Coast Guard rescue efforts and endangering helicopter crews. If the Coast Guard is going to continue rescue operations along Myrtle Beach shores, the reckless behavior of shining green lasers at our helicopters must stop.

Twice in the last two weeks, our Coast Guard helicopters were grounded in the middle of rescue missions when the flash of green lasers hit pilots searching for people in distress. The popular green laser toys, sold widely at beachfront shops, may seem fun or cool but create a serious hazard for our crews and force them to abandon their rescue missions.

When Coast Guard helicopters are airborne the crews are simultaneously flying the aircraft and visually searching out the windows. Once a laser hits an aircrew it can cause temporary blindness making it impossible to do both.

To ensure their safety, our aircrews affected by laser lights must land immediately and can only return to the mission after being cleared by a physician. Depending on the severity of the exposure they may be grounded, leaving a distressed or injured boater to wait for a rescue helicopter that is no longer coming to their aid.

After six such laser groundings over the last 18 months, not including the two most recent incidents, we can no longer passively absorb the risks. The possibility of not saving people in distress or losing a Coast Guard aircrew is now too great. So, we are aggressively pursuing landside enforcement action and risk management policies that would limit rescue efforts until the safety of our crews can be assured.

As of February 2012 people caught shining a laser light directly at or in the path of an aircraft face up to five years in prison and an $11,000 fine. Locally, Myrtle Beach prohibits the possession of laser pointers by minors.

Our rescue crews are devoted to saving people on the sea, often at great risk to themselves. But the reckless behavior with green lasers frequently occurring along Myrtle Beach compels us to act. We need community leaders, businessmen, law enforcement officers and parents to spread the word. Stop using green laser pointers improperly so we can focus on rescuing people who need our help. A party trick or prank could one day cost the lives of an aircrew or the mariner they seek to find and rescue.

White is the commander of Coast Guard Sector Charleston. Commander Gregory Fuller is the commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Station Savannah.