7 Mar 2013

Community sentences for helicopter laser pair

8:34 pm on 7 March 2013

The Airline Pilots Association says the community sentence given to two men who shone a high-powered laser at a police helicopter is not the deterrent they wanted.

James Spiers, 19, and Joshua O'Hare-Knight, 21, were found guilty of causing unnecessary danger to an aircraft on 7 May 2011 in Auckland.

The men shone a laser light into the cockpit of the police's circling Eagle helicopter while they were at friend's birthday party in the suburb of Mt Albert, temporarily blinding the crew with up to six bright green flashes.

The pair faced up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine over the incident.

But at the Auckland District Court on Thursday, Spiers was sentenced to 140 hours of community service, while O'Hare-Knight was given 160 hours.

Judge Nevin Dawson told them their actions could have had catastrophic consequences. He described them as reckless, dangerous and said several lives had been put at risk.

Outside court, Airline Pilots Association president Glen Kenny said the sentences fell short of what pilots were hoping for and are not much of a deterrent.

Mr Kenny said there is a section of society that can't be trusted to act responsibly with lasers and he wants public access to lasers restricted.

He said reports of laser strikes are increasing at an alarming rate - from 23 in 2007 to 100 strikes in 2011 and told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme the association supports efforts to ban the importation and sale of high-end lasers.

"The Ministry of Health are consulting at this stage the restriction on the importation and sale of the high-end hand-held lasers, which we support.

"There's also a private members' bill that hopefully will get its first reading in the next few weeks that will actually make possession of them an offence as well - and we definitely support that legislation."