OPP 'deeply concerned' after laser pointed at helicopter during training

Ontario Provincial Police are searching for a person who pointed a laser at one of its helicopters during a training exercise in Elgin County on Monday night.

Ontario Provincial Police say the incident occurred Monday night in Elgin County

The Ontario Provincial Police are looking for a person who pointed a laser at one of their helicopters during a training exercise in Elgin County, on the north shore of Lake Erie, on Monday night. Nobody was injured. (Ontario Provincial Police)

The Ontario Provincial Police officials say they are "deeply concerned" that a person pointed a laser at one of the force's helicopters during a training exercise in Elgin County on Monday night.

No one was injured. A search is on for the suspect.

Sgt. Peter Leon, provincial media relations co-ordinator for the OPP, based in Orillia, Ont., said the pilot was able to maintain control of the helicopter and landed the aircraft safely at about 9:30 p.m. in the area of Elgin County, on the north shore of Lake Erie and south of London.

The laser was pointed at the cockpit of the helicopter while it was in flight.

"Now, fortunately, our crew was able to respond appropriately and avoid a direct impact with the laser strike, which thankfully prevented any permanent injury or impact to the flight operations," he said. 

"But the mere fact that this happened is very concerning not only to the OPP, but to the safety of our pilots and ultimately the citizens that we protect here in this province."
The OPP says the laser was pointed from a ground location. Police have some idea where it might have been. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Leon declined to say how many people were in the helicopter and where exactly the incident occurred. The OPP has two helicopters and four pilots. The aircraft are used to rescue people, including those found after they are reported missing, he said.

"I can't get into the exact specifics," he said. "We do have an investigation currently underway. I don't want to compromise the integrity of that investigation. We are taking this incident very, very seriously."

Leon said the laser was pointed from a "ground location." Police have some idea where that location is, he said.

He said pointing a laser at an aircraft can create glare that distracts or temporarily blinds a pilot and doing so puts passengers, as well as people on the ground, at risk. The pilot reacted quickly, he said.

"His professionalism and skill as a pilot certainly helped him to bring that aircraft safely to the ground. The outcome could have been significantly worse."
The OPP have two helicopters and four pilots. The force says its helicopters are used to rescue people, including those found after they're reported missing. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

The OPP are appealing to the public for information about the incident.

Leon said the person responsible could be charged with point laser at an aircraft. If convicted, the person could face a fine of up to $100,000, be sentenced to five years in prison or both.

"We're deeply concerned. We don't want to see this type of activity continue," he said.

OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair, provincial commander of Traffic Safety and Operational Support, said in a news release on Wednesday that the person responsible will be held accountable.

"Laser attacks on aircraft are a serious and growing concern," Blair said. "The OPP take these actions very seriously and if the persons responsible are identified, they will be held accountable for their actions." 

According to Transport Canada, incidents in which people have pointed lasers at aircraft are on the rise in Canada. In 2015, there were nearly 600 such incidents reported in Canada. 

Anyone with information is urged to contact the OPP at 1-888-310-1122, or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).