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Disaster and Accident

Two ferry captains injured by blue laser

Mukilteo Beacon of Mukilteo, Washington

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Two captains aboard a Washington state ferry were injured when a man pointed a high-powered laser into their eyes near Mukilteo.

Just after 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, a captain aboard the Tokitae reported over the radio that a very bright light was shining into the wheelhouse as he was approaching the Clinton terminal, State Sgt. Christina Martin said.

A man aboard the Kitsap, which was on its way to the Mukilteo terminal, reportedly pointed a laser into the two wheelhouses of the Tokitae for about a minute as the ferries passed each other.

The captains were manning the wheelhouses on either end of the 350-foot vessel when they were hit in the eyes with the laser, Martin said.

They both complained of vision issues and discomfort, and sought medical attention after docking. One captain reportedly suffered a damaged retina and third-degree burns on his eyelid.

"They said it was like being sunburned in the eye or snow blind, that type of a thing," said Ian Sterling, a Washington State Ferries spokesman. "It feels very scratchy and it's really uncomfortable.

"Both of them missed a day of work, and one of them had a pretty serious burn on his eyelid."

After the captain radioed about getting hit in the eyes with a blue light, a crewmember aboard the Kitsap reportedly saw two men in their mid-20s with a laser. They were ordered to stay put.

"The light was being shined between both pilot houses for about a minute, and they were parallel to the Kitsap, so they knew it was coming from the other vessel," Martin said.

When the Kitsap docked, a Washington State Patrol trooper boarded the ferry and confiscated the laser.

The man with the laser told the trooper that he had been shining his new toy into the water.

"It looks like something out of Star Trek," Sterling said. "This isn't something you'd use to play with your cat."

The high-powered laser is 6 inches long and weighs about 2 pounds. It emits a blue light. The laser manufacturer claims that it is powerful enough to light a match if held on target.

The manufacturer warns that the laser shouldn't be pointed at faces or aimed at reflective surfaces.

Its website states: "Don't allow the laser beam to enter the eye. The laser beam is harmful to eyes; any contact will cause permanent damage."

There have been no arrests. Both the Washington State Patrol and U.S. Coast Guard are investigating whether the man who was playing with the laser should be charged.

This is the first time a laser has been shined at a Washington state ferry

"These things aren't toys," Sterling said. "This shows you how serious they are.

"This is not all that different than shining a laser at the pilot of a 747. You certainly wouldn't want to temporarily blind a pilot while he's landing. The same is true for one of our ferry boat captains."



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Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015



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