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Laser light
Laser strikes on pilots have risen dramatically over the past decade. (Coast Guard photo by Stephen Lehmann)

The U.S. Coast Guard says it had to cut a helicopter training mission short on Monday night after the airborne crew was targeted by someone with a laser near Port Angeles, Wash.

The laser was directed at the MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at around 6:30 p.m., forcing the crew to abort the flight and return to Air Station Port Angeles. “No injuries were reported, but all crew members are grounded until they are cleared by medical personnel, as laser strikes can cause permanent eye damage,” the Coast Guard said today in a statement.

The Coast Guard said it was working with local law-enforcement officials to investigate the incident.

“The public should report this type of incident to local law enforcement,” Lt. Cmdr. Greg Lynch, an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter pilot at Air Station Port Angeles, said in today’s statement. “A laser can be just as dangerous as shooting a gun in bringing down an aircraft and crew. Unless they are held accountable, offenders may never learn that their actions are extremely dangerous and illegal.”

Aviation crews have struggled to cope with laser targeting for years. One of the best-known flare-ups came on Feb. 22, 2009, when a dozen planes were targeted by laser beams while landing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Last month, crew members on a Coast Guard C-130 plane reported being hit by a green laser flash as they flew near Sacramento State University in California. Sacramento police traced the flash to a Christmas light display that made use of a laser-equipped projector. The homeowner was not arrested, but police said he did turn off the laser.

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