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Ocean City, NJ To Ban Sale Of Laser Pointers

OCEAN CITY, NJ (CBS) -- Ocean City, New Jersey is set to become one of the first towns in our area to ban the sale of certain types of laser pointers over fears one could catastrophically damage an aircraft.

On Thursday night, City Council will take up an ordinance banning the more powerful – usually green-colored – laser pointers. Right now, police say they can be bought at a dozen or more boardwalk shops.

"It's dangerous to aircraft. It's dangerous to any type of vehicle," said Ocean City Police Captain Steven Ang. "If you shine this in the operator's eyes, it can temporarily blind them, it can permanently blind them."

Ben Simmoneau reports...

Capt. Ang says there have been 14 laser incidents involving aircraft in the Ocean City area over the past year. Just this month, Eric Bouda, 21, of Mantua, N.J. was arrested and fined for shining a laser at a Coast Guard helicopter on a training mission just off the coast.

The Federal Aviation Administration says that was the fourth incident in and around Ocean City in 2011.

Police asked boardwalk shops to stop selling the lasers last year but found them again in shops this summer. Now, they're asking City Council to make their sale illegal.

"It can actually cause an aircraft to crash," said Capt. Ang.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Justin Perez knows the dangers of laser pointers in helicopters firsthand. He says he was on a training mission over Ventnor in February when someone shined a laser pointer into his helicopter cabin. As a flight mechanic, he sits directly behind the pilots.

"I saw it with my naked eye, and it was flashing right up on the ceiling," he said. "They were just tracking us, like they were following us."

Because of the danger to the eyes, if a laser beam hits any helicopter crewmember, they must immediately abort their mission and return to base at the Atlantic City airport.

In the event of a search or rescue, that could have deadly consequences. The Coast Guard helicopters based in Atlantic City patrol the waters from Maryland to New York and make about 50 rescues a year.

"We're out there trying to save a life, and we can't complete our mission," said Perez. "It's going to take much longer to get another crew back out there."

Getting hit by a laser also makes the pilot or crew members ineligible to fly for at least 24 hours while their eyes are dilated and checked.

Police Captain Ang says he knows stopping the sale only in Ocean City is a small step, because the lasers are widely available on the internet. But, he says, it could save a life.

Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS3

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