South African police have arrested two men and a youth were arrested for allegedly shining a green laser light at aircraft, particularly helicopters taking off from Bloemfontein airport and Bloemspruit Air Force Base.
Members from the Special Task Force responded to information and arrested a 45 year old father, his a 14 year old son and a 22 year old friend at Olive Hill, near Mangaung in the Free State, Colnel Vishnu Naidoo says in a statement.
“The pointing of laser lights is viewed very seriously because it has the potential to blind and disorientate a pilot which could result in the aircraft crashing. Therefore, the three suspects will be charged in terms of Section 133 of the Civil Aviation Act 13 of 2009. Section (j) (i) of the said Act states that any person who wilfully performs any act which jeopardises or may jeopardise the operation of an air carrier is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment not exceeding 30 years or to both such fine and imprisonment,” Naidoo said.
The three are expected to appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court today.
“People are warned that this is a serious offence and the consequences severe. Therefore, we implore on people to refrain from performing such acts.”
The dazzling of pilots by ground lasers has become a global problem. On Friday. Reuters reported Clark James Gable, the grandson of “Gone With the Wind” star Clark Gable, has pleaded guilty to pointing a laser at a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter. Gable, 23, is expected to receive 10 days in jail and 200 hours of work on a CalTrans crew for the incident, which occurred last July.
The US Federal Aviation Administration last February said the number of incidents in which people pointed lasers at planes and helicopters nearly doubled in 2010, from 1527 in 2009 to 2836 – for that country alone. FAA administrator Randy Babbitt has said that in some instances pilots have had to relinquish control of their aircraft to other pilots because they could not see.
In South Africa here were 70 incidents in the 10 months to March last year, Airline Pilots Association of South Africa (Alpa) executive committee member Captain Margaret Viljoen said. Viljoen says the problem with laser beams is that if they are shone in pilots’ eyes they can temporarily blind them to such an extent that they can’t see where to land. Pilots can also sustain permanent eye damage. In an incident at Lanseria, two pilots were blinded so badly that after landing they couldn’t see the man who signalled where to park the plane, the Afrikaans daily, Beeld, reported at the time. “If people aren’t stopped, it could lead to serious incidents,” she said.