When working properly, the strobe lights atop the cell tower at Cowichan District Hospital shine white during the day and red overnight to ensure helicopter pilots can it safely to their landing pad. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Flashing strobe light at Cowichan hospital annoys neighbourhood

Cell tower malfunction sees night sky lit up

Tony Mantell and his wife noticed something curious on Monday night. They saw a flashing light that they’d never seen before coming from the direction of the nearby Cowichan District Hospital.

“You can’t miss it,” he said. “All of a sudden as soon as it started getting dusk, we thought, what’s that flashing out there? And even though we’re sheltered from trees to a degree, it really is that bright.”

One call to the hospital’s administration and Mantell learned it’s a cell tower with some strobe-type lights perched on top.

“There always used to be a red light up there, I guess to stop the hospital helicopter from flying into it or whatever, but now they’ve fitted, I think it’s four or five very, very powerful strobe lights that kind of strobe about every two seconds,” Mantell explained. “It really lights up the house. From our deck in the flashes I could read newsprint and it was quite a dark night last night. There wasn’t a full moon or anything.”

Mantell said he and his wife had to add extra cover to their bedroom windows “because it kind of lights up the curtains like a TV screen in the flashes.”

And their house wouldn’t even have been the worst affected, he noted.

“Other houses don’t have trees in the way of the beam,” he said.

Mantell wasn’t able to get in touch with anybody at Rogers Communications, the company who owns the tower.

Island Health spokesperson Maribeth Burton was able to look into the matter.

What Mantell was seeing were the daytime lights, which are much less noticable during daylight hours, lighting up the night sky.

They were malfunctioning.

“We have obstruction lights at CDH that are a requirement under Transport Canada,” Burton explained on Tuesday afternoon. “They are usually shining on trees in and around the heliport. They strobe red at night and white during the day but for some unknown reason overnight, and we are investigating, it flipped last night and it was flashing the wrong colour.”

The required lights have been in place for “a long time” Burton said. They just usually work properly with the less intrusive red lights strobing at night.

Burton said Rogers has been notified of the error and in the meantime, the temporary plan is to have the lights strobe red 24/7 until the situation can be properly fixed.


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