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Suspected Russian laser injures U.S. officer

Ship

Pentagon probe under way

May 14, 1997
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Russian ship apparently fired a laser beam at a Canadian military helicopter, injuring the pilot and a U.S. Navy officer on board and prompting concern at the highest levels of the Pentagon, officials said Wednesday.

The suspected laser was fired April 4 from the bridge of a Russian cargo ship in U.S. territorial waters off the coast of Washington state. Both men are expected to recover.

Defense Secretary William Cohen said he is "concerned," but added there was "conflicting information" about the incident. An investigation is still under way.

Cohen said he did not raise the issue in his meetings with Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, who is wrapping up a three-day visit to Washington. The incident occurred shortly after the Helsinki summit between the U.S. and Russian presidents.

However, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said a protest was lodged with the Russians, who have agreed to cooperate in the investigation.

Helicopter photographed the ship

Burns said the Navy officer suffered eye damage, but the injury was temporary "and he is going to recover ... fully."

The officer was identified as Lt. Jack Daly, who works as a liaison officer with the Canadian Maritime Pacific Command in Esquimalt, British Columbia. The Canadian pilot, who wasn't identified, also should recover, Burns said.

Cohen said he does not know if the laser was aimed at the helicopter, which had been conducting routine patrols and had photographed the ship.

Cohen

A photograph taken from the helicopter shows the Russian ship with a "red light" on the bridge, suggesting a laser might have been "fired" from the ship.

Asked why the incident not disclosed until The Washington Times reported on it Wednesday, Cohen said it would have been "premature" to say anything before officials knew what happened.

The newspaper said the incident, which occurred at midday, was described in a "classified Pentagon report."

The report said the Russian ship was spying on a U.S. nuclear submarine in waters off Washington state when a "laser beam" was "fired" at a Canadian helicopter, injuring the pilot and a U.S. Navy officer on board taking pictures, the paper said.

No laser device found in search of ship

Pentagon officials confirm an investigation began the next day, after the two men complained of eye problems. A doctor diagnosed eye injuries, "consistent with laser burns" but could not definitively say they were caused by a laser.

Pentagon officials say the injured men were flown to Brooks Army Medical Center in Texas for further evaluation, and that the preliminary diagnosis remained the same: They suffered retina burns consistent with exposure to a laser.

The ship was searched in port in Tacoma, Washington, two days later by the Coast Guard, but no laser device was found. Pentagon officials say the ship's captain and crew were cooperative, and the two-hour search covered every compartment on the Russian freighter.

Lasers are used by U.S. and other military forces, primarily for detection, targeting, range-finding and communications. In 1995, the Pentagon barred the use of lasers specifically designed to cause permanent blindness.

 
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