AN air ambulance pilot has described the “blinding flash” after being targeted by a laser strike while landing at a North-East hospital.
The crew of the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) came close to aborting the landing after a laser was directed into the cockpit of the helicopter.
The incident happened at around 5.30pm on Sunday, when the charity was carrying a critically ill patient to James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough. The crew was battling to save the man’s life when a laser was shone into the aircraft three times as it was on its final descent.
Keith Armatage, GNAAS pilot, said: “It was a blinding flash, you couldn’t see a thing. We came very close to aborting the landing, which could have had a direct impact on the patient, who was fighting for his life as it was.”
Mr Armatage, a former Apache pilot who has flown in warzones around the world with the British Army, said: “People need to be aware of the dangers. Lasers can blind – temporarily and permanently. If the pilot is blinded, the helicopter crashes.
“We are a charity and we are just trying to help people out there. It’s frustrating that some people want to get in the way of that.”
It is not the first time the aircraft has been targeted by lasers, though it is the first time from such close proximity.
“We’ve had it from 2,000 feet before,” said Mr Armatage of an incident near Washington. “That is dangerous enough, but from 150ft it poses an incredible risk.”
Mr Armatage said the crew were able to pinpoint the location from where the laser was shone – the Kilburn Road area of Middlesbrough – and that this information has been handed to Cleveland Police.
A spokeswoman for the police said: “An incident whereby a laser was shone into the cockpit of the Great North Air Ambulance aircraft as it was landing at James Cook University Hospital was reported to Cleveland Police.
“Endangering the safety of an aircraft is very dangerous and it is a criminal offence. Anyone found to be doing so will be dealt with appropriately by the authorities.
“Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to contact Cleveland Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555-111 or www.crimestoppers-uk.org.”