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The laser that nearly blinded a pilot as he prepared to land at Cardiff Airport; Mystery beam of light shone at Boeing cockpit.

Byline: Steffan Rhys

A HIGH-POWERED laser was shone 4,000ft up at a passenger flight pilot coming into land at Cardiff International Airport, aviation experts revealed last night as they warned of a potentially catastrophic new trend.

The Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed it received a report of abeam of a powerful green light being shone into the cockpit of a Boeing 737 - capable of carrying around 130 passengers - as it made its final approach.

South Wales Police is investigating last month's incident, details of which have only just emerged, in which the beam is believed to have emanated from somewhere "west of Newport".

As pokesman for the CAA said: "We are investigating a report given to us by a pilot of a passenger aircraft that on August 13 this year a beam of light was shone on him at 4,000ft as he descended into Cardiff International Airport.

"Any member of the public shining a light at an aircraft or a helicopter could endanger the safety of the flight, and any person found guilty of such an offence could face a custodial sentence."

Inspector Paul McCarthy of South Wales Police said: "I can confirm that on August 14, we received a call from air traffic control relating to the use of a laser light being shone at an aircraft.

"Unfortunately, because of the height the aircraft was flying at it has been very difficult to find where the light originated from. We were told only that it was 'west of Newport'.

"That has been noted but inquiries have not revealed who the person responsible was."

The incident is just the latest in a disturbing series of incidents logged by pilots across the UK.

The perpetrators are thought not to be using standard laser pens but rather the more powerful lasers, often used in astrono my, which are imported from China and Russia and can be bought over the internet for as little as pounds 10.

Dave Reynolds, flight safety officer of the British Airline Pilots Association, said: "There have been dozens of incidents over the past year or so.

"The first sign that the aircraft has been targeted is when a light spot starts darting around the flight deck.

"It is a serious distraction at a critical phase of the flight and it is something the authorities need to take very seriously indeed.

"We have advised our members to shield their eyes from the light and hand over the controls to a colleague if there is any doubt about their ability to see the instruments or the flight path clearly.

"These incidences are an increasing nuisance. Luckily, nothing has gone wrong to date, but it's only a matter of time before an accident occurs.

"The pilot's ability to see can be impaired by flash blindness and we suggest they go to hospital for a check-up to make sure they have suffered no lasting eye damage."

The CAA spokesman added: "It certainly can put a plane at risk. A lot of incidents are minor, when a pilot sees a laser and reports it.

"But there have been incidences where a laser has been shone into a pilot's eyes and made it difficult for him to see, particularly in the dark.

"It happens, unfortunately, all over the UK."

Last night, a Welsh pilot who has been a victim of just such a stunt described the behaviour as "dangerous" and told the Western Mail how the lasers could cause pilots "temporary blindness".

Commercial and former RAF pilot Darryl Protheroe-Thomas, 31, from Ammanford, said the tactic had been used by UK farmers angry at being sited near RAF air bases, and also used by militants in Iraq and Afghanistan to target British planes.

"It causes temporary blindness. It is dangerous, though there are always two people on the flight deck who can take control.

"But it's still a ridiculous thing to do. I've had it done to me while flying a light aircraft at night. I had to close my eyes.

"It can permanently damage your eyes, which clearly is not good news for a pilot."

Cardiff International Airport last night said they were aware of the August 13 incident, but were unable last night to confirm which plane had been the victim.

Powerful lasers can burn and blind

The types of lasers being used to point at aeroplanes are far more powerful than the "laser pens" which are sometimes a nuisance when used by pupils in a class.

The types that can reach aeroplanes are much more powerful and dangerous and are for sale online at strengths of up to 500 milliwatts.

Lasers with this kind of strength, so called Class 3B and Class 4 lasers, are so powerful they are commonly used for "star-pointing", where astronomers highlight particular stars in the night sky.

One website offering such a laser for sale describes its strength as able to "burn, cut and fabricate most materials including metals".

They come with a warning which states: "Class 3B lasers are not considered pointers often used for fun, amusement and entertainment such as the lower-power Class 3A.

"Class 3B lasers emitting over 50 milliwatts can burn objects and possibly cause fires when used at close range.

"Lasers over 100 milliwatts are especially dangerous in this respect.

"Never point in the direction of people or animals as these devices can cause blindness and burn skin."

CAPTION(S):

DANGER BEAM: The green laser was fired 4,000ft into the air into the cabin of the passing Boeing 737 as shown in this artist's impression
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 29, 2008
Words:926
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