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Wed Sep 28 19:09:21 SAST 2016

Laser beam forces Virgin flight back to Heathrow

AFP | 16 February, 2016 00:33
The Airbus A340 carrying 252 passengers and 15 crew continued over Ireland before requesting to return, flight radar showed. File photo
Image by: Toby Melville / REUTERS

A British pilots' union demanded action after a laser beam dazzled the co-pilot on a New York-bound flight, forcing the Virgin Atlantic jet to turn back shortly after take-off from Heathrow Airport.

Police responded to "reports of a laser shone in the direction of a commercial flight that had taken off at Heathrow" on Sunday night, a spokesman said.

The Airbus A340 carrying 252 passengers and 15 crew continued over Ireland before requesting to return, flight radar showed.

A crew member told air traffic control there was a "medical issue with one of the pilots after a laser incident after take-off", according to flight radio recording. A message on Virgin Atlantic's website confirmed flight VS025 had returned to Heathrow.

"Following this incident the first officer reported feeling unwell," it said. "The decision was taken by both pilots to return to Heathrow rather than continue the transatlantic crossing." Unions warned that lasers were a growing problem, with 9000 incidents reported to the UK Civil Aviation Authority between 2009 and 2015.

London Heathrow alone recorded 48 incidents in the first half of 2015, followed by Birmingham with 32, Leeds Bradford with 24 and Manchester with 23.

"Aircraft are attacked with lasers at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength," said British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) general secretary Jim McAuslan.

"It puts that aircraft, its crew and all the passengers on board at completely unnecessary risk. Modern lasers have the power to blind."

A man was arrested this month after a green laser was shone into the cockpits of passing planes over Kent in southeast England, said police. The eye of a British Airways pilot was damaged in November by a "military" strength laser, according to Balpa.

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