Police warn of potentially 'catastrophic' consequences of pointing lasers at aircraft

Police are warning it could just be a matter of time before there's a mass fatality from someone shining a laser beam into the eyes of their helicopter pilots.   

Byron Wensor listened carefully as Judge Robert Ronayne detailed on Friday how he'd pointed a green laser straight into the eyes of police flying an eagle helicopter. 

"The crew were subjected to glare and flash-blindness," Ronayne said.

But outside court, the 22-year-old didn't want to talk about the terror he'd caused the three crew. 

Police had been chasing a possible burglar above a west Auckland school in Kumeu in August when the cockpit was suddenly flooded with light from Wensor's high-power laser. Once the crew recovered from their blindness, they were forced to abandon their mission. 

Wensor had been using meth. 

"People have simply been locked up so that the right message is sent to idiots who point lasers at aircraft. Because that's what you were on the night," Ronayne said.

But Wensor got lucky - he was sentenced to six months' community detention, 200 hours' community work and 12 months supervision.

Such laser-strike cases are on the rise. In 2018, 228 aircraft were hit - that's up more than 30 percent in just one year.

Police launching their new fleet of eagle helicopters on Friday say they're becoming increasingly worried many people could be killed, because the crime-fighting machines mostly fly over built-up areas.  

"It could be hugely catastrophic. What could be more dangerous in terms of trying to control a machine at speed, at height, and losing conscious of where you are," said Alan Rowland, an officer in charge of air support.

The criminals are relatively easy to find with infra-red cameras, so police are focussing on prosecutions in the hopes of deterring people like Wensor.