Chopper on rescue mission when laser flashed

Police have slammed the "idiotic" behaviour of a man who admitted shining a laser at a rescue helicopter flying over South Dunedin early today.

An Otago Rescue Helicopter pilot reported a laser being repeatedly shone at his aircraft, a police spokesman said. The pilot was able to pinpoint where the beam was coming from and hovered to guide police to the address.

Before police arrived, a man "took off" in a car with no lights on. He was stopped on King Edward St, where he admitted the offence and was arrested. 

The 33-year-old man will appear in court next Thursday.

The spokesman said the behaviour was "extremely dangerous as well as idiotic", and said offenders would be caught and charged.

Graeme Gale, managing director of HeliOtago Ltd, the organisation which operates the Otago regional rescue helicopter service, said the pilot had been on a rescue mission bringing a ‘‘seriously sick’’ patient to Dunedin Hospital at the time the laser had been flashed.

Mr Gale said he could only apologise to the people in South Dunedin who were awoken by the helicopter, which had hovered for 15-20 minutes, but that it was necessary to deal with the incident promptly to avoid it happening again.

The laser, which had been shone directly at the pilot, could have had a ‘‘catastrophic end result,’’ he said.

‘‘You’re playing around with some thing that could actually take the machine out of the air,’’ he said.

This was not the first time this had happened in Otago.

‘‘We’ve had a number of these incidents in Dunedin, and further South. There’s also been a number through the country. For whatever reason, people tend to target rescue helicopters when they’re out and about at night.’’

Mr Gale stressed the man’s actions had been ‘‘extremely dangerous,’’ and could have incapacitated the pilot.

‘‘We take it seriously, and the police take it seriously.’’

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