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Laser beam hits WestJet pilot in the eye on Calgary takeoff

Transport Canada and police are investigating a complaint that a WestJet pilot was hit in the eye with a green laser beam while his plane was taking off from the Calgary airport, CBC News has learned.

This is at least the fourth incident this year where someone has used a hand-held laser pointer to target a plane leaving from, or arriving at, the Calgary airport.

The WestJet flight had just taken off from Calgary, bound for Kelowna, B.C., on Oct. 3, when a green laserbriefly lit up the cockpit, said WestJet official Scott Wilson.

The first officer looked out to see where it was coming from and was hit directly in the eyes. The crew member did not suffer any permanent damage, which could jeopardize a pilot’s career. “As soon as they got to [the] destination, we had them off-loaded from the aircraft and report to emergency for a proper ophthalmologic exam,” said Wilson. “And we actually had one more followup when they returned to Calgary a day later.”

Wilson said powerful laser pointers are widely available and safe to use according to their instructions. But he warns that the police take incidents where a plane is being tracked with a laser very seriously, especially when planes are landing or taking off.

“I don’t know if the individuals that are perpetrating such things truly understand the danger of the laser versus it’s kind of fun to point a light at the aircraft. But you know, anything that can cause long-term ill effects to our employees or our guests causes us concern, great concern quite honestly.”

Transport Canada said it has received 73 reports of bright lights being shone into cockpits from the ground since 2005. David Mackow pleaded guilty earlier this year to breaching the Aeronautics Act after an Air Canada Jazz pilot was distracted by a green laser beam while landing in Calgary on Oct. 15, 2007. The laser beam came from an apartment in the city’s downtown core.

The pilot reported the incident and Calgary police dispatched its HAWCS helicopter to investigate. Mackow, a forklift operator, then pointed the green beam into the helicopter.

Mackow told police he was “just having some fun,” but was fined $1,000. Court records show that he later expressed remorse for his actions.