LASER louts have been condemned after they aimed a potentially catastrophic beam at the Devon Air Ambulance in Teignbridge during an emergency call.

The aircraft was targeted over Tedburn St Mary as it answered a 999 shout in Holsworthy last Friday night.

The crew were flying to help an elderly woman who had fallen and needed essential medical treatment at the major trauma centre in Plymouth.

But just before 10pm they were aware that the green laser light was being aimed at the aircraft from the ground.

The incident, immediately condemned by the mercy mission charity, prompted calls for the ‘toy’ laser pens to be outlawed.

Rob Mackie, the air ambulance’s safety manager and a helicopter pilot with 34 years experience, said: ‘Thankfully, due to a quick thinking crew member, the team were able to continue to Holsworthy to help the patient.

‘However, we recognise that should this have not been the case, and had a crew member received injuries to their eyes or if the crew had been temporarily blinded, it might have meant aborting the mission and us not being able to get to a patient in need.’

He added: ‘Hand-held lasers are not illegal in this country and they are usually quite low-powered and suitable as presentation pointers. But it is very easy to acquire military strength lasers on the internet at very low prices and it is the misuse of these higher powered lasers that has caused the British Airline Pilots Association and other industry bodies to call for them to be classed as offensive weapons.’

The increasing sales of powerful hand-held laser pens have always been considered to be a viable threat to all aircraft - but Friday’s drama was the first significant incident involving Devon Air Ambulance.

The ‘attack’ came only a few weeks after the introduction of night operations for the aircraft.

Mr Mackie said: ‘I am sure that most laser attacks are caused by thoughtlessness rather than malicious intent.

‘We would call on anyone with a laser to think of the consequences before they shine them towards an aircraft.’

And he warned: ‘Lasers can cause a catastrophic blinding light and can quite easily damage a pilot or crew members’ eyes - or distract the pilot enough to cause an accident.

‘It would be better all-round if they were regulated. In the meantime we would ask any parent who knows their child owns one of these devices to explain the consequences of misuse to them. This includes the damage they can inflict on themselves or others by shining the laser beam in their eyes.’ 

The charity fully supports moves to get high-powered lasers classed as offensive weapons. The service has submitted a Mandatory Safety Report to the Civil Aviation Authority in the wake of Friday night’s incident.

Between 2009 and June 2015 more than 8,998 laser incidents across the country were reported to the UK Civil Aviation Authority.