THE pilot of a police helicopter had to take evasive action after a laser pen was shone into its cockpit just weeks before the Clutha Bar tragedy, it has emerged.
The quick-thinking pilot was forced to turn the aircraft away from the powerful beam being aimed at the helicopter from a house in Silverknowes.
The crew were nearly blinded by the laser but were able to use heat sensitive cameras on board to identify its source.
Police on the ground raced to a home in Silverknowes Crescent and detained 24-year-old Grant Jones on October 1 last year.
Details of the terrifying close call emerged after Jones appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday to admit breaching the Civil Aviation Act. He admitted directing a light so as to dazzle or distract the pilot of an aircraft in flight.
Police Scotland confirmed the Eurocopter EC 135 was the same one which crashed into the packed Glasgow pub on November 29 – just eight weeks later – but declined to say whether any of the crew members killed were on board during the earlier incident.
Depute procurator fiscal Isabel Clark told the court the helicopter – with two police officers on board – was being used to search for a stolen vehicle when the beam began to strike the cockpit.
She said: “One of the officers became aware of a green laser light which came from the Silverknowes area. This laser light was shone up towards the helicopter and the pilot had to take immediate action because of the fear of damage to the sight of the pilot and other crew members. The helicopter was turned to allow the cockpit to face away from the source of the laser light.
“The camera operator was still able to record the direction of the laser. The officer was in contact with the police control centre and heat cameras were put into action to locate the light source.”
Jones was tracked as he tried to make his escape into his house on Silverknowes Crescent before he was arrested by officers.
Ms Clark added: “He told them he was filming the helicopter on his mobile phone.”
The police helicopter which crashed into the Clutha Bar, killing ten people, suffered a double engine failure, air accident investigators later found.
In February, the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) reported that both engines “flamed out” but its report did not pinpoint the cause.
The crew who were killed were pilot David Traill, Pc Tony Collins and Pc Kirsty Nelis while seven others in the bar also lost their lives.
The Police Scotland helicopter was based at a heliport in Finnieston, Glasgow.
In February 2013, police in Edinburgh warned of the dangers of people flashing laser lights at aircraft flying into the city’s airport.
Police and airport authorities at the time said they had received a number of complaints of incidents of laser pens being aimed at aircraft.
Sheriff Nigel Ross deferred sentence on Jones until June 2.