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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Pilot Says Russian Laser Hurt Him




WASHINGTON -- A U.S. naval intelligence officer said he has agonizing and permanent eye damage from what he said was a laser beam fired at his helicopter from a Russian cargo ship he was monitoring.


Lieutenant Jack Daly told a House Armed Services subcommittee Thursday that he's not surprised the Pentagon can't support his claim.


The Coast Guard didn't board the ship to look for the suspected laser until three days after he was hit, Daly said, and then only after giving the Russian captain 24 hours' advance notice.


"It may have walked off the ship in a gym bag with a crew member'' at the dock in Tacoma, Washington, Daly said.


The April 1997 incident occurred in the Juan de Fuca Strait north of Washington state's Puget Sound.


The Pentagon investigated the episode and said medical examinations showed injuries to Daly's right eye that were consistent with damage that might be expected from a laser device. But it said "no evidence'' was found to prove it was a laser, no laser was found on the ship, and the Russian captain denied having such equipment.


Both Daly, who said he was taking pictures of the Russian ship at the time, and the pilot of the Canadian helicopter received eye damage.


Despite the Pentagon's claim at the time that the eye damage to both was minor and temporary, Daly said, both he and the Canadian air force pilot, Captain Patrick Barnes, "suffered irreparable eye damage."


While he had perfect vision before, Daly testified he now has 24-hour pain in his right eye, can't drive at night and can't go to movies or night ball games.


The only relief he gets is sitting in the dark with his eyes closed, "yet lately even that does not seem to help much,'' he said, and his vision is deteriorating because of scar tissue.


The testimony before the Armed Services procurement subcommittee came at a hearing on whether the services are protecting members adequately from unconventional warfare, including laser attacks.


NATO pilots and crew members were ordered to wear protective glasses last October after two American helicopter crew members sustained minor corneal burns, apparently from a laser.


Daly said he had been monitoring the Kapitan Man ship, believing that the vessel was engaged in surveillance of U.S. submarines in the vicinity, even though it was legally operating as a merchant ship.


Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and the subcommittee chairman, said Daly appeared to be the victim not just of a Russian laser but bureaucratic bungling by the government.


Furthermore, Hunter disclosed that the same Russian freighter was boarded in 1993 by the Coast Guard and submarine equipment was confiscated from it.


Hunter suggested that all Russian ships be banned from Puget Sound, as they were during the Cold War. Rear Admiral Lowell Jacoby, director of naval intelligence, did not dispute Daly's account of the alleged laser incident.


He called the Kapitan Man a "suspicious ship," and said it and other Russian merchant ships have had "numerous close encounters'' with Navy submarines in the Juan de Fuca Strait.