OPP helicopter struck by laser during training exercise in Elgin County

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Provincial police are investigating after an OPP helicopter was struck by a laser during a training exercise in Elgin County on Monday night.

The incident happened around 9:30 p.m. while the chopper was engaged in an exercise with OPP specialty teams, police said.

The crew managed to prevent any permanent injury and flight operations were not impacted, said OPP media relations co-ordinator Sgt. Peter Leon.

“They were able to avoid any possible disaster with respect to the helicopter by utilizing professionalism and skill. As a result of that, there was no serious injury,” he said.

According to Transport Canada, pointing a laser at an aircraft can create glare that distracts or temporarily blinds the pilots, putting passengers, as well as people on the ground, at serious risk.

“As you can appreciate, a helicopter of that size potentially falling out of the sky as a result of the careless actions of an individual, could have had not only a deadly outcome for our crew, but potentially for anyone on ground as well,” Leon said.

In a statement, OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair called laser attacks on aircraft “a serious and growing concern.”

“The OPP take these actions very seriously and if the person(s) responsible are identified, they will be held accountable for their actions,” he said.

Figures released by Transport Canada show incidents involving laser attacks on Canadian aircraft have been on the rise over the past several years, up from 502 reported incidents in 2014 to nearly 600 in 2015, or more than 10 incidents a week. Between 2012 and 2014, the number of reported incidents rose by 43 per cent.

According to Health Canada, a split-second look into a laser pointer can result in a condition called flash blindness, similar to how a camera flash can stay in your field of vision for a few seconds after a photo is taken.

Under the Aeronautics Act, those convicted of pointing a laser at an aircraft can face up to $100,000 in fines, five years in prison, or both.

Asked if police had determined where the laser was coming from, Leon said he couldn’t comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

“We are encouraging the public that if anybody sees this type of activity taking place, please let us know,” Leon said.

“We should not even be having these types of occurrences. When people purchase a laser device for the intended means and use, there are very, very clear, (and) very explicit instructions that identify what they should not be pointed at, and aircraft is certainly one of those things.”

With files from Adam Miller of Global News, and The Canadian Press

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