CareFlite Pilot Describes Laser Hit

Medical helicopter is latest to be struck by laser over North Texas

A medical helicopter pilot who reported being targeted by a laser said he shut one eye because he worried he might go blind in the other.

Roger Catlin, a pilot for CareFlite who is based at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, said someone on the ground lit him up with a laser while he was flying over Terrell earlier this month.

"I quickly closed one eye so if I got blinded, I'd have at least one working eye to use," he said.

Catlin and a neonatal team were flying to a hospital in Tyler on July 16 to help a baby who needed urgent care.

"It's pretty distracting," he said. "You're concerned that, 'What if you become injured? Are you going to be able to fly the helicopter?'"

He said the light hit a plastic window under his feet and dispersed, making it hard to see.

"As we flew along over the next 30 seconds or so, the laser flashed across us maybe two or three more times, flashing on the bottom of the aircraft," he said.

What happened to Catlin is hardly unique, but few people are ever caught.

In June, Sammy Ladymon, of Garland, was the first person arrested in North Texas for pointing a laser at a plane.

The pilot of a Southwest Airlines jet reported the incident to air traffic controllers, and an FBI plane in the area was able to pinpoint Ladymon's exact location, the FBI said.

Ladymon faces up to a year in jail and an $11,000 fine.

"I certainly regret any aircraft especially passenger airliners I may have endangered," he said in a jailhouse interview soon after his arrest.

At the time, the Federal Aviation Administration said 51 such incidents had been reported this year over North Texas -- far more than the number for all of 2010.

Catlin has a message for anyone thinking about pointing a laser at a plane: "Think about what it would be like going the rest of your life without your eyesight. That's what you're threatening to do to the pilots and the passengers and the crew on those aircraft."

Or something even worse could happen.

"It's a little hard to land an aircraft if you're blind," he said.

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