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LIAT flight diverted back to Barbados in laser light incident

LIAT flight diverted back to  Barbados in laser light incident

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For some, laser lights seem like nothing more than harmless fun.

However, in keeping with the old adage ‘what is fun fuh schoolboy is death fuh crapaud’, the situation last Friday night could have easily become anything but harmless, when a LIAT flight approaching St Vincent had to be diverted back to Barbados because a laser light was being beamed into the cockpit.

With a full flight of passengers, the aircraft was making its descent at approximately 9:20 p.m. on June 11, when the pilot had to abort landing because a laser light — that seemed to originate in the Dorsetshire Hill/Queen’s Drive area — had temporarily obscured his vision.{{more}}

One of the passengers on the flight spoke with SEARCHLIGHT, highlighting the fact that if the laser light had been beamed later down in the flight’s descent, it may have been too late to abort landing — causing a major accident.

“It needs serious investigation!” asserted Renwick Rose, a Prospect resident. “It’s a good thing, in my view, that at least it was done early enough… It could have been done when he (the pilot) was actually committed to the landing.”

Rose recalled that, initially, he had not realized anything was amiss when the flight was landing at the ET Joshua Airport.

“Normally in making the descent, I’m just relaxing and waiting. I found it was taking a while… I didn’t even realize we were circling, but then I realized something was wrong… I thought it might have been the usual thing, you know – the wind or so on – but then the pilot announced that there’s a laser light shining into the cockpit… it’s blurring his vision; he can’t see,” he explained.

Rose further said that the pilot informed his passengers that he had notified the authorities of the problem, and was awaiting instructions on what course of action he should take.

“He came back to us to say that they had not yet been able to resolve the problem, and he has the difficulty with fuel — if we keep circling, he will run out of fuel… So, he took the decision to go back to Barbados, which of course was not very popular [with passengers].”

Despite the potential gravity of the situation, the reaction of most passengers was more so one of frustration rather than fright, because many of them had been in transit for a few hours before heading to St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“The worry was that when we got to Barbados — which is obviously not everyone’s favourite place — will we get another flight or anything?”

When the flight landed at Grantley Adams International Airport (Barbados), despite some initial confusion, passengers like Rose — who had been in transit from St Lucia — were provided with overnight accommodation and a morning flight to St Vincent the following day.

However, for passengers who had originally embarked on the flight in Barbados, Rose said he is unsure of how LIAT dealt with them.

“I was surprised because knowing it was not LIAT’s fault per se, I thought they would simply tell people that it’s not their fault, because I had that problem before. They took care of the people who were in transit – I don’t know how it worked out with the others.”

Additionally, he pointed out: “This is of serious concern… Hearing comments from LIAT staff and pilots and passengers, it must have implications… particularly now that it’s Carnival.”

A release issued by the director of airports Corsel Robertson stated: “The fact that the pilot had to abort the landing gives an indication of the seriousness of this act… This is a very dangerous practice; a laser beam can blind or impair the vision of the flight crew to the extent that it can cause an accident or crash.

“To deliberately point this light at an aircraft, is to threaten the safety of the passengers, crew, aircraft, property and lives on the ground, and civil aviation in general. This can lead to the loss of lives and should not be taken lightly.”

The release further stated that the incident is a “very serious offence” and will be dealt with by the relevant authorities under the full severity of the law.

“Persons who have engaged in this dangerous practice are strongly urged to cease and desist from repeating such an offence. The cooperation of the general public is solicited in the protection of its fellow members who travel by air. Please refrain from engaging in any such act and discourage anyone whom you know may be considering such an activity.”

Robertson also appealed to the public to report any knowledge of this event or plans to carry out similar acts in future to the police or to the Airports Department at (784) 458-4011.

According to a BBC news article dated February 15, 2016, a Virgin Atlantic flight heading to New York turned back to London Heathrow Airport (UK) after a laser light was beamed into the cockpit.

Prior to that, in April 2014, three young men were sentenced to five to seven months in jail for using laser pens to “dazzle” the vision of pilots landing at the East Midlands Airport in the UK. (JSV)

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