Pilot avoids crash after blinding laser

THE QUICK thinking actions of a police helicopter pilot averted a tragedy after a “bright and blinding” flash of light from a laser left him unable to see his controls, a court has heard.

Jane Hunt

THE QUICK thinking actions of a police helicopter pilot averted a tragedy after a “bright and blinding” flash of light from a laser left him unable to see his controls, a court has heard.

Steven Cholerton was forced to veer off course when the dazzling beam of light illuminated the cockpit of his Suffolk Constabulary helicopter while he was helping in a night-time search for a missing child, Ipswich Crown Court was told.

At the time of the incident Mr Cholerton was flying over Ipswich at a height of 1000 feet and was accompanied by two policemen who were acting as air observers, said Michael Crimp, prosecuting.

Before the court in a landmark case brought by Suffolk prosecutors was 20-year-old Glen Porter, of St Augustine's Road, Ipswich, who admitted endangering the helicopter on April 27 this year.

The case is the first time in Suffolk, and only the second time in the country that someone has been prosecuted for the offence - which can result in up to five years in prison.

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Porter was due to have been sentenced yesterday but the hearing was adjourned until October 27 for a psychiatric report to be prepared after the court heard that the defendant had mental health problems.

Adjourning sentence Judge Neil McKittrick told Porter his actions could have caused a serious incident.

Mr Crimp told the court that at 12.35 am on April 27 the cockpit of the helicopter had been illuminated by an “extremely bright and blinding flash of green light” which forced the pilot to rapidly turn the aircraft away from the source.

The pilot had been unable to seen the aircraft instruments and also lost his visual references which Mr Crimp said were “paramount” to the safe operation of the helicopter.

He said the laser, which was fired for a period of three to five seconds, could have had serious implications for the safety of the helicopter and crew.

The light was identified as coming from the car park of Zest nightclub in the town and Porter was arrested after the helicopter crew directed their colleagues on the ground to him.

During interviews Porter said he had bought the laser pen on eBay several weeks earlier and accepted he was aware it was dangerous to shine it at an aircraft as it could dazzle the pilot.

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