A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter out of Charleston had to make an emergency landing Monday night after a laser light was shined into the cockpit from shore.
The crew on board the helicopter was searching for a missing boater.
The Coast Guard says its crews have faced this type of problem before. The Savannah air station experienced six laser incidents in the past 18 months, four of which occurred during searches, according to the Coast Guard.
Once a laser is shined into a cockpit and the crew has landed, the Coast Guard requires each person on board the helicopter to undergo an eye exam and be cleared by a flight surgeon.
This can delay a search up to two to three hours.
"People need to consider how many lives they're putting in danger before they choose to point a laser light at an aircraft," said Cmdr. Gregory Fuller, commanding officer of Air Station Savannah. "It's not only incredibly dangerous for those in and around the aircraft, but it also keeps our aircrews from responding during maritime emergencies. This isn't something we take lightly."
According to a release from the Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration reports lasing incidents rose 902 percent from 2005 to 2011. Shining any laser at an aircraft is a federal offense under 14 CFR 19.11. Several people have been convicted under this and similar state laws. These convictions have resulted in prison terms as long as five years, fines of up to $11,000, and five years probation.