Guilty Plea Entered in Laser Strike on Coast Guard Aircrew

A Washington state resident has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to aiming a laser pointer at the Coast Guard aircrew as they were on final approach to Air Station Port Angeles on Sept. 26, 2016.

Thirty-five-year-old Randall Muck of the Port Angeles area was sentenced to 90 days home confinement with electronic monitoring, one year of probation and a $1,000 fine. The Coast Guard report said that Muck illuminated an MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter crew with a green laser light while the aircrew was on final approach to the air station.

The four members of the aircrew reported no injuries.

Muck was identified by the Coast Guard Investigative Service as the person using the laser following incriminating statements he made at work. His live-in girlfriend witnessed the act from their residence and provided corroborating information. The case was referred to the Department of Justice Western District of Washington in February of 2018 and went to the grand jury in May 2019.

Laser pointers can cause danger to Coast Guard air and boat crews due to glare, afterimage, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision. Coast Guard flight rules dictate that aircraft must abort their mission if a laser is shined in the eyes of an aircrew member.

Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft or vessel is a federal felony subject to fines and imprisonment or both. It is also a crime under federal law to forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate or interfere with a federal officer while engaged in their performance of official duties.

In this particular case, the aircrew was medically grounded for about two hours.

Cmdr. Mark Hiigel, former commanding officer of Air Station Port Angeles, said the public needs to understand that the dangers of playing with green laser lights goes beyond medical risks to Coast Guard aircrews, placing all mariners at risk due to delayed response times should they become in distress.