Top eye expert stresses laser device danger

Steve Schallhorn
Steve Schallhorn

A former ‘Top Gun’ pilot and leading eye doctor has urged greater awareness of the harmful effect that laser pen exposure can have on vision, to help reduce attacks on aircraft.

The plea follows a recent incident in which a pilot carrying passengers to Dundee was distracted by a laser device shone from somewhere in Methil.

Dr Steve Schallhorn, chief medical director at Optical Express and an ex-US Navy pilot, warned that apparently growing numbers of laser device attacks on aircraft could cause a terrible tragedy.

“The problem is, I’m not sure that people who misuse powerful laser pens actually understand the harmful effect they can have on vision,” he said. “Sudden exposure to a laser beam during a critical phase of flight such as take-off or landing could seriously distract or disorient a pilot, causing a disruption in concentration or instrument scanning. And, when viewed directly, powerful lasers can cause irreversible eye injury by burning the retina.”

It is illegal to shine a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot.

Police in Fife, meanwhile are continuing to appeal for information on the Dundee incident, which happened around 8pm on February 28.

A device was shone into the cockpit of a light aircraft carrying three passengers as it was making its descent into the city. Despite being distracted, the pilot was able to land the plane without incident.

Officers say the person responsible was in the Methil area when the incident occurred.

Inspector Tom Brown of Levenmouth said: “It beggars belief that someone would be so stupid as to endanger a plane and its passengers in this manner. There has been a lot of media coverage recently with regard to this type of this behaviour and the danger it poses to the pilot and passengers.

“Through co-ordinates provided by the aircraft controller, we have been able to locate the area where the device was shone from.”

Anybody with information is asked to contact police on 101 or anonymously via Crime stoppers on 0800 555 111.