Police Helicopter Tracks Down Laser Pen

Watch the dramatic moment the National Police Air Service’s helicopter is put in danger when late night party lout shine a laser into the cockpit as the helicopter flies over Kitts Green, Birmingham. A man who dazzled police helicopter crew with a laser pen during a late night party has been given a suspended prison sentence after admitting endangering an aircraft. Chris Vowles was with friends drinking in the back garden of a house in Eatesbrook Road, Kitts Green, when he targeted the National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter with the laser beam on 31 July. The crew were temporarily disorientated as the green light bounced through the cabin - and when they used powerful thermal imaging cameras to locate the laser source they homed in on Vowles laughing and toasting the laser attack with fellow drinkers. However, their bravado was abruptly punctured when colleagues on the ground - directed to the group from above - gate-crashed the party and arrested the 23-year-old shop worker on suspicion of ‘acting reckless in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft’. Vowles was shown on camera - able to pick up appearance and clothing details from 2,000ft - tossing the pen into a neighbour’s garden in a bid to distance himself from the laser. It was quickly recovered and when Vowles, from Highfield Road in Sandwell, was shown the on-board camera footage he was left with little choice but to admit the offence. He appeared at Birmingham Crown Court today (Oct 16) and was sentenced to seven months suspended for two years and 250 hours of unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay £100 victim's surcharge and £300 costs. NPAS Senior Pilot Andy Shanks - based at the Birmingham Airport hangar - said he’d been hit “countless" times by laser pens during a 33-year flying career. “When the light bounces off the screen it’s like a disco-ball strobe effect in the cabin," he explained. “It’s disorientating, makes it impossible to focus on the instrument panel and is extremely dangerous as even a momentary loss of control can be crucial. “In a worst case scenario crew members struck in the eye can suffer eye damage - that happened recently to an observation officer in Ripley who suffered retina damage after being hit with the laser whilst looking through binoculars." The helicopter was heading to Birmingham on a thermal imaging surveillance mission when it was struck by the laser beam several times at around 1.15am. Hovering at approaching 1,300-feet the crew zoomed in on party and watched as they laughed, gestured up at the helicopter and raised beer bottles aloft. But just 15 minutes later a response team arrived at the property and as the seriousness of the incident struck Vowles he hurled the laser pen over a fence. West Midlands region NPAS manager Martin Knowles, said: “This was not accidental…it was a deliberate act. The demeanour of the people in the garden illustrates the attitude of many people - laughing and joking and believing their actions were somehow harmless fun. "But aiming a laser pen at any aircraft, be it a police helicopter, air ambulance or commercial plane, can have disastrous consequences - it’s certainly no laughing matter. “The police take laser pen incidents very seriously - and of course it’s easy for us to identify offenders as the light beam directs us straight to them, whilst high-tech on-board cameras enable us to keep tabs on them should they try to disappear." Visit the website for more information at: www.west-midlands.police.uk


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