CATHEDRAL CITY – Pilots of a CHP helicopter were nearly blinded when somebody pointed a high-powered pen laser at their cockpit.
Now, one man is under arrest, facing trouble from the Feds for putting the pilots in danger.
The CHP helicopter was assisting Cathedral City police officers on a prowler call in the 68200 block of Santelmo Road when the pilot and co-pilot were momentarily blinded by a strong laser pointed into the cockpit, said Sgt. Scott Sharpe.
The pilot saw the laser coming from the driver’s side of a vehicle at Landau Boulevard and Vista Chino, Sharpe said.
The pilot broke off and began following the vehicle, whose driver began making erratic turns in an attempt to evade the helicopter but eventually pulled over in the 68300 block of Garbino Road and was arrested, he said.
They tracked down and arrested 18-year-old Nathan Wells.
Aiming a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense, a felony punishable by up tothree years in prison.
Chris Kane is a pilot for Platinum Helicopters in Palm Springs. He’s had everything from bullets to high-power spotlights come his way before.
“There’s been several occasions, most recently during the Biker Weekend when we’ll fly with the U.S. Customs Department when people shine flashlights on us. Shining bright lights up at us flying and I guess people don’t realize how dangerous that is to the fact it affects the pilots night vision,” said Kane.
CHP crews and Mercy Air medical helicopters often fly in the Coachella Valley. Their crews are the eyes in the sky for local law enforcement. Newer, commercially available green lasers are what pilots are afraid of.
Kane added, “If it does blind the pilot, you have to worry about that aircraft crashing and hurting people on the ground. I don’t understand the mentality of people that would want to do that, even step outside and shoot it up at an aircraft. It’s more prominent then ever.”