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An AirEvac helicopter was struck with a laser recently, causing concern among local EMS personnel.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the number of people pointing lasers at aircrafts is increasing and one official says it’s happening locally.

The FAA reported 6,852 laser incidents in 2020, up from 6,136 in 2019.

David Tanstaafl, a flight paramedic with AirEvac and the chairperson of the Gila Valley Emergency Services Council, said he was on a flight coming into Safford from Tucson May 27 when someone began pointing a laser at the helicopter he was on.

His pilot immediately notified the pilot of another air ambulance who was also in the air. That pilot thanked him and commented he’d been hit with a laser a few times over the last couple of weeks, Tanstaafl said.

The issue is a serious one, but people may not realize it, Tanstaafl said.

“In a worst case scenario, it could blind the pilot and cause the craft to crash,” he said. “They’d be having a massive funeral for the medical crew and if there was a patient on board, they’d be responsible for their death and that of the medical crew, too.”

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Because it’s a federal violation, the laser pointer could also face hefty fines and prison time, too, he said.

According to the FAA, the agency takes enforcement action against people who violate Federal Aviation Regulations by shining lasers at aircraft and can impose civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation.

The FAA has imposed civil penalties up to $30,800 against people for multiple laser incidents.

Tanstaafl said he’s not interested in getting anyone caught and arrested, he just wants them to stop. He also wants to educate others on the dangerousness of lasers.

“I don’t want it to happen again,” he said.

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