News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, November 3, 1998 - 1:40 p.m.
Presenter: Capt. Mike Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.


Q: Bosnia?

A: Yeah.

Q: What happened? Do you think this guy got, these two I guess guys that were injured got hit with a weapon or a toy or...

A: At this point I think we still do not have a definitive answer as to what the source of the laser incident was. Let me give you a little background though, so that perhaps those who haven't gotten into this one can understand it more fully.

As I understand it, on the 24th of October there was a helicopter that was, the crew of the helicopter that was involved in this included a chief warrant officer who was the pilot and a sergeant who was an air crewman. They reported eye irritations as a result of an incident involving a laser that came from a residential area. This was near the town of Zeneca. They were treated and basically released.

According to the reports that I've received, there is a proliferation of these little laser pointers among school children in Bosnia. And I think that some of you here in the United States have seen these laser pointers which are actually, I think, designed for school age children because they project various symbols on the wall and they're used in the classroom. They're also potentially very dangerous if they're pointed at a person's eyes.

Q: It went to a helicopter.

A: That's correct. In this particular case our belief is that this was an incident involving a laser that was not a toy. But there was a search that was conducted immediately after this report, and that was done by local police as well as the IPTF, and the only laser that was found in the area was one of these toys.

So the investigation to determine exactly what caused this lasing incident is still going on. As I say, the injuries were not serious.

The command over there, because they had previously had other incidents where lasers had been pointed at individuals, both civilian and military people, they were embarking on kind of an information program for the local population to educate people as to the hazard of these devices -- the toys, particularly. And it was in the midst of all of that that this incident came up.

What we've done to deal with the situation is to provide helicopter crews with either special glasses or goggles that protect their eyes in these situations.

Q: The people whose eyes were injured, were they flying at night with night vision goggles on?

A: Do we know whether this was at night? Let me...

Voice: The answer I think is yes, but...

A: Let us verify the time of day that this occurred before we answer that question. We'll get back to you on that one.

Q: Is this considered some sort of weird new threat? There is a proliferation of lasers all over the place. Is this something the military is concerned about?

A: We have been for some time concerned about lasers. I think each one of the services has been very aware that lasers can be a factor in modern warfare. And I think you're aware that there are treaties that govern the use of lasers now also. But this particular case is unique in that although there have been other laser incidents over there, it is not at all clear that this was done with any kind of hostile intent. Although the source of the laser may have been something that was other than a toy.

Q: How badly were they injured? How many were injured? And are they okay now?

A: There were two individuals involved in this, as I say. There was a chief warrant officer who was the pilot, and a sergeant. They complained of eye irritations. I think that to put this in perspective, anybody who has been around welding when it's going on can get some sense of the situation. If you look at welding going on with unprotected eyes sometimes you can have eye irritation and it will not necessarily do permanent damage to your eyes, but certainly there is a sensitivity to light for some period of time.

I think the sergeant in this case is still wearing sunglasses, but we anticipate that he will shortly return to full duty. The warrant officer, indeed his eyes have been medically cleared at this point, although for other reasons he is not flying helicopters presently.

Q: There are various kinds of weapons, range finders, and laser sites, and things like that that use lasers. Is there any feeling that this could have been a weapon, a laser associated with a weapon?

A: There were during the war over there, we believe, weapons that used lasers. And it is conceivable that one of those, not necessarily weapons, but a range finder or some piece of military equipment actually was picked up by somebody afterwards, somebody who may not have a full appreciation for what the dangers of these things are.

But the other thing that I want to stress here is that these little toys which do interesting things in a classroom, project hearts and flowers and birds and bees on the wall, are actually not all that safe and I think people need to be aware of the fact that this is a concern. In Bosnia these toys, which don't cost much money, are readily available to kids, and they're running around using them.

Q: Did DoD provide any assistance to the French government in their decision to arrest...

A: Are we finished with lasers?

There's one last piece of information on that one. I am told that all of the incidents were at night and with night vision goggles.


Q: Just to clear up on the Bosnia incident, can you describe what kind of mission they were on when they were flying, and was it over, you said it was a residential area?

A: It was over a residential area. I think you're aware that we do a variety of flights there. It was a kind of a routine night flight that occurred. We frequently like to keep an eye on what is going on there and we do that with helicopters in some cases and with ground units in others.

Q: So there wasn't any incident going on at the time...

A: No, there was nothing that would have occasioned this. It was more a, first of all it was totally unexpected; but secondly, it came from a residential area.