UTAH (ABC4) – Keep your lasers pointed down.
A University of Utah AirMed crew member was hit by a laser strike causing temporary blindness in one of their eyes.
Officials say it happened not once but twice during the same shift.
Both incidents happened somewhere in the Sugarhouse area on Jan. 9 while crews were transporting a patient.
U of U Health says during the first of these incidents, the laser hit a medical crew member in the eye. As a result of the laser, this crew member sustained a period of temporary blindness in one eye.
After the flight, the crew member was admitted to the ER, where they were released for full duty after being evaluated. However, they did have blurred vision on the periphery of the affected eye for the next week.
Later in the same shift, the same crew reported another laser strike. All members looked away from the laser, but they did report the laser was distracting.
A similar incident happened in Coalville back in 2018.
Frankie Toon, AirMed Program Manager with U of U Health says that the member did need medical care, and is said to be recovering. She tells ABC4 these incidents could’ve been a lot worse.
“Had that strike hit a pilot during a critical phase of flight, it could’ve been catastrophic for the patient, the team and the community, so it’s a very dangerous practice,” Toon said.
According to the Federal Aviation Association, dangerous laser strikes saw a spike in 2021 as they received nearly 7,200 laser strike reports compared to 2020 where they received just under 6,900 reports. The FAA says that is the highest number of laser strike reports since 2016.
If caught pointing a laser at an aircraft, you could face a hefty fine upwards of $11,000, and up to $30,000 for multiple offenses. Toon says it’s also a federal offense.
While at this point it’s unknown who’s responsible for the laser strikes, Toon says it’s important for the community to understand the danger of this act.
“Someone may think it’s funny or a prank, but it’s not a prank and it can affect the community as well as everyone involved,” Toon said.
The incident remains under investigation.