Laser attack on Emergency Air Ambulance crew

Posted by Kym Provan, 13th June 2017
I was infuriated to read about another laser attach on an emergency air ambulance crew yesterday, this time in the Stockton-On-Tees area on Sunday evening.

Despite the dangers of targeting helicopters flying at night with laser beams being blindingly obvious (forgive the pun), and warnings having been given by air ambulance chiefs and senior police officers in the past, there seems to be an increasing number of reported episodes, from all around the country.

In November last year, there was a report of an incident in which a doctor on board was temporarily blinded whilst the helicopter was flying over Swansea bay on a Saturday night, returning from a call-out. In January of this year, there was another incident reported by Devon air ambulance. On that occasion, fortunately no-one was injured, but there was a real risk that the crew may not have been able to reach the injured elderly lady that they were trying to assist.

In this latest incident reported by Great North Air Ambulance, the helicopter was returning to base at Durham Tees Valley Hospital, having transferred a young man, thought to be in his 20s, with life-threatening head injuries to James Cook hospital. The crew reported that the green laser lit up the cockpit of the Air Ambulance repeatedly, strongly suggesting that this was not accidental, but a deliberate attempt to target the helicopter. Thankfully no-one on board suffered an eye injury, but the risk that the people using these lasers are creating is enormous and completely inane. What if the patient had still been on board? What if the pilot had been blinded by the laser? What if it was the friend or relative of the person shining the laser on board at the time?

The threat to life

Air Ambulance crews provide an invaluable service to the patients who most desperately need urgent attention, who cannot be reached or whose condition is so serious that it is not safe to transport them, by conventional ambulance. The crew are specially trained and often work in very difficult conditions in order to try to save the life of the patients they are called upon to treat. The helicopters are of course incredibly expensive in their own right and are kitted out with life-saving equipment. Air Ambulance Trusts often rely upon charitable donations raised by hundreds of tireless volunteers to remain in service.

It is difficult enough to establish, fund and run an effective Air Ambulance service, and in order for them to be able to operate at night involves a whole raft of additional safety factors, cost and complications to be overcome. I simply cannot understand why anyone would want to jeopardise the safety of the crew or their patients by thoughtlessly shining a laser directly at the helicopter in this way.

My role as a clinical negligence solicitor is to help those who have been injured through medical treatment or lack of treatment, to find answers about what has happened to them, and if the failings in treatment were negligent, to help them to rebuild their lives as best they can through financial compensation. Delay in diagnosis and treatment is a common complaint in my work as delay can have a huge impact on the person’s level of injury and longer term prognosis.

My colleagues and I act for individuals who have suffered catastrophic injuries both in the UK and abroad, as well as for patients who present with life threatening medical conditions, whose lives are dependent upon the availability of an Air Ambulance to take them to the nearest specialist hospital in the fastest possible time. As you may have gathered, we feel strongly that the crucial role of the Air Ambulance service should be supported in every way possible. Indeed, a number of lawyers from across the personal injury practice group at this firm have previously undertaken a sponsored skydive to raise funds for our local Air Ambulance service, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance.

I sincerely hope that this crazy practice of targeting Air Ambulances at night with lasers, or indeed any aircraft, is brought to a stop very soon before more lives are put at risk. Those using the lasers never know when their life or ability to walk again may depend upon an Air Ambulance being able to safely take them to the nearest specialist hospital for emergency treatment.

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