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April 4, 2020

Multiple local pilots hit in recent​ laser strikes

WATSONVILLE—Watsonville pilots, and the city’s municipal airport, are asking for help after several aircraft were struck by laser light.

The phenomenon, known as laser strikes, occurs when someone on the ground points a laser light at a pilot.

It is a federal offense, with five years in prison for those who are caught and a $250,000 fine, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.

“The Federal Aviation Administration takes laser incidents very seriously because of the potential safety hazards they pose,” he said. “Lasers can distract pilots or temporarily impair pilots’ vision while they are in the critical landing or takeoff phases of flight.”

Specialized Helicopters Director of Operations Chris Gularte said his pilots have experienced about 30 in the past three months.

Gularte said the curved glass of the windshield focuses the laser beam into the cockpit. The light has been coming from three different places around Watsonville, he said. 

“It’s terrible,” he said. “It lights up the cockpit and can blind you.”

A man was arrested on Feb. 17 after he shone a laser at a CHP helicopter, temporarily blinding the pilot.

The quick-thinking co-pilot used the helicopter’s infrared camera to find the suspect.

Christopher Larsen was arrested for two felonies and booked into the Solano County Jail, the CHP said.

Gularte said that he hopes the publicity will serve as a deterrent to stop the perpetrators.

“The penalties are severe,” he said. “You will end up in jail. The DA will prosecute you. We want to work with our neighbors and let them know what a bad idea it is.”

Watsonville Police spokeswoman Michelle Pulido said that the department is aware of the laser strikes, and has added extra patrols in the area.

Anyone with information is asked to call 471-1151.


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