Laser warning after teenager guilty of 'dazzling' pilot
People who target aircraft with laser pens are endangering lives, Devon and Cornwall Police have said.
The warning came after the force released footage of a laser being shone at the force helicopter over Torquay.
Lasers can briefly blind a pilot, dazzling them and causing temporary loss of night vision. The force's own helicopter, based in Exeter, has been targeted about 20 times in six months.
A teenager was convicted of distracting a police pilot in August and fined.'Exceptionally dangerous'
The majority of incidents in Devon and Cornwall were over urban areas, particularly Plymouth and Torquay, police said.
An investigation was started into whether such a device was shone at the plane carrying the Olympic flame as it came in to land at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall in May.
Staff at the air station said they saw an unexplained red light near the aircraft as it was coming in to land.
End Quote PC Joe Mathews Devon and Cornwall Police air support team
I'm amazed that we haven't had a tragedy”
In the incident which led to the teenager's conviction, a green beam was shone at the aircraft which was about 2,000ft (610m) over a populated area of Torquay while it was searching for a missing person.
The distraction forced the pilot to abandon the search but the air crew found the man by using a thermal image camera.
The 19-year-old was convicted by magistrates of shining a light at an aircraft in flight so as to dazzle or distract the pilot.
He was fined £250 and was ordered to pay £100 in costs and charges. The laser was destroyed.
PC Joe Mathews, of the force's air support team, said he was "amazed that we haven't had a tragedy".
He said: "Our aircraft operate very low over urban areas and we're operating to the peak of our capacity.
"Distractions like this can be exceptionally dangerous."
The Civil Aviation Authority said anyone who witnessed lasers being shone at any aircraft should report incidents to the police "because it is a real danger to pilots".
Offenders caught targeting an aircraft with a laser faced up to five years in prison if found guilty of an offence under the Civil Aviation Act, it said.