NORFOLK, Va. — Hampton Roads is dressed up for the holidays.
Unfortunately, though, some joyful decorators are using a potentially dangerous dazzling light display - whether they realize it or not.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Sentara Norfolk General Hospital is the home-away-from-home for the Nightingale helicopter flight crew.
Right now, it's decorated with red and white stockings for the pilots, nurses paramedics, mechanics and dispatchers and a half-size Christmas tree decorated in a helicopter theme.
This is a much needed place of comfort for a crew that switches to go-mode in an instant.
"Isle of Wight," the dispatcher called out on this particular Thursday night, "We have a male patient, MVA (motor vehicle accident)."
Just like that, they're off.
As jolly as this time of year may be, it brings an issue for the helicopter crew: laser light displays.
"Every little distraction or interruption can mess with your normal routine and cause you to make mistakes and miss something that might be important," pilot Joe Sherman said.
Sherman wouldn't talk to 13News Now during his pre-flight check of the helicopter. Distractions are an absolute no-no in this line of work, whether it's a TV news crew patiently waiting for an interview or a laser light display.
One of those things he can control.
Funny enough, the man piloting Nightingale for the last 11 years happens to own this kind of display.
"I got one myself a couple of weeks ago," he said, laughing, "I haven't plugged it in yet on the outside of my house but it does have a label that says 'make sure you don't point this into the sky because it represents a threat to aviation.'"
Sherman takes that warning seriously because he knows what the dazzling strobes and beams can do.
"Those lasers carry a long way, particularly in this cold, clear winter weather that we're experiencing right now
It floods the cockpit with potentially disorienting flashes of light.
Thankfully, the solution is easy and doesn't put a damper on the holiday spirit.
"Don't get rid of your lasers," Sherman said. "Have fun with them, decorate your house go crazy... do the Griswold family Christmas routine if you want to, but just make sure they're not pointed up into the sky."
Angle them lower.
To be clear, this isn't just about helicopters. Although, they're more likely to encounter the lasers because they consistently fly at a lower altitude. Airplanes can experience the lasers during takeoff and landing.
Sherman suggests double-checking the angle of your display if you live near an airport or an area with frequent air traffic, like Ghent or near the military installations.
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