A 38-year-old Lacombe man has been charged with shining a laser pointer into a helicopter.

AIR-1, the Edmonton Police Service helicopter, was flying over 106 Street and Whitemud Drive just before 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday when something disrupted the pilots; someone had shone a laser beam into the cockpit.

After the flight crew traced the light back to a vehicle near 38 Avenue and Mill Woods Road, they guided ground units to the suspect. Police pulled the suspect over near 34 Avenue and 91 Street and arrested him.

Alvin Bautista, 38, of Lacombe has been charged with interfering with the safe operation of an aircraft under the federal Aeronautics Act.

“This is the first time we’ve charged anyone under the Aeronautics Act,” said Jeff Wuite, EPS public information officer.

The police are unsure of any possible motivation.
“It’s certainly not common, but this isn’t a unique situation,” said Wuite. “We’ve had several incidents like this in Edmonton.”

According to Wuite, incidents like this have occurred across North America ever since laser pointers became an item that was readily available to the public.

A weak laser pointer could temporarily alter a pilot’s night vision, making flight unsafe.

Unfortunately, laser pointers also have the potential to cause real damage: A stronger pointer could actually cause permanent tissue damage.

Purposely obscuring or altering a pilot’s vision, especially one flying over a residential area, could also have disastrous consequences for those on the ground.