Last month, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operator reportedly crashed his vehicle into hot springs at Yellowstone National Park. The vehicle has not been retrieved, and the National Park Service (NPS) for Yellowstone has since provided more information and reiterated its regulations.
In June, the NPS enacted an interim policy banning the operation of UAVs in national parks. This stemmed from concerns about public safety, wildlife disturbance and potential impacts to the visitor experience and park resources, the agency explains.
While taking a largely educational stance during the early phases of publicizing the ban, the NPS says, Yellowstone rangers have developed several criminal cases involving egregious violations of this ban.
The agency references the incident at Yellowstone, when Theodorus Van Vliet of the Netherlands crashed his UAV into the Grand Prismatic Spring on Aug. 2.
According to the NPS, Van Vliet – who is cooperating with the ongoing investigation – has been charged with several violations of federal law and, if found guilty, faces up to $5,000 in fines and/or six months in jail and/or five years on probation.
The agency explains that park staff members are still trying to determine if the material from which the UAV is constructed poses a threat to the hot spring. Attempts to locate the device both from the ground and from a manned helicopter overflight have turned up possible areas in the pool where the unit may have come to rest. If its location can be confirmed, park staff members will determine if there is a way to safely remove the device without damaging the thermal feature.
The NPS goes on to explain another recent incident in which rangers responded to the illegal operation of a UAV in the park. Donald Criswell of Molalla, Ore., was charged with violating the ban after he flew his UAV over the crowded Midway Geyser Basin and close to bison on Aug. 19.
Charges were also recently filed against a German national for a July 17 incident in which a UAV crashed into Yellowstone Lake near the West Thumb Marina. Andreas Meissner faces several charges, including violating the ban on operating unmanned aircraft, giving a false report to a government employee and commercial filming without a permit, according to the NPS.
NPS concludes with the following: This ban is being enforced at Yellowstone. Violators will be contacted, investigated and may be subject to confiscation of their unmanned aircraft, a mandatory court appearance and fines.
The prohibition on operation of unmanned aircraft in Yellowstone National Park was included in the 2014 update to the Superintendent’s Compendium, which can be found here.