Guilty verdict in third Yellowstone Park unmanned aircraft case

Three cases regarding the use of unmanned aircraft in Yellowstone National Park have resulted in three convictions.

Donald Criswell of Molalla, Oregon, had been charged with violating the ban after he flew his unmanned aircraft over the crowded Midway Geyser Basin and close to bison on August 19.  On Thursday afternoon, October 2, he pled guilty to the charge of violating a closure and was fined $1,000 plus court costs.

In late September, Theodorus Van Vliet of the Netherlands entered a guilty plea in connection with an August 2 incident where his unmanned aircraft crashed into Grand Prismatic Spring.  He was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay over $2,200 in restitution.

Earlier in September, Andreas Meissner of Germany pled guilty to charges arising from operating an unmanned aircraft which crashed into Yellowstone Lake near the West Thumb Marina back on July 18.  Meissner was sentenced to a one year ban from the park, was placed on one year of unsupervised probation, and was ordered to pay over $1,600 in fines and restitution.

All three successfully prosecuted cases arose from well documented violations of the prohibition of the operation of unmanned aircraft along with other violations of park regulations or impacts to park resources.

Full article here: Yellowstone Hobby UAS Incidents

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Comment by Thomas J Coyle III on October 4, 2014 at 12:02pm

This should come as a word of warning for anyone thinking that they can get away with flying their hobby sUASs in National Parks.



Comment by Ted Van Slyck on October 4, 2014 at 3:58pm
Does anyone know if there is an altitude restriction or operator location restriction? Because soon enough commercial drones will be high in the sky above the parks whether they like it or not. They certainly do not have jurisdiction over the high altitudes over parks. I am not sure where their jurisdiction stops, if they have any legal jurisdiction over the airspace over the parks in the first place.
Comment by squilter on October 4, 2014 at 4:55pm

I believe the wording is that you cannot take-off or land in a national park.  You should be *technically* safe if you just fly over (and don't crash).

Comment by Ted Van Slyck on October 4, 2014 at 5:16pm

For the record I have no intention of flying somewhere that will draw negative attention to our hobby....or in a National Park. I was merely wondering where National Park service jurisdiction actually stops. The topic has been discussed at length in the "not over my property" and "reasonable use of your land" discussions however. 

Comment by Jonathan Hair on October 4, 2014 at 5:16pm
Have there been any convictions in national parks outside of Yellowstone?
Comment by Steven G on October 4, 2014 at 6:59pm

If you ask me, they all got off rather lightly. At the pay rate of our Government bureaucrats, fishing a Quad out of a steaming hot spring could add up to some enormous bucks.

Comment by Toby Mills on October 5, 2014 at 12:55am
I've got to say I don't really have an issue with drones being banned in national parks.
There are lots of things you can't do in parks.
You wouldn't ride a motorbike through a herd of bison so why should we think we would have the right to potentially cause a stampede with a drone.

Long term it would be good if you could do it with a permit. Then it's controlled.
Comment by Andrew Rabbitt on October 5, 2014 at 2:04am

If should be noted that, if they did plead guilty in all cases as the article seems to read, then it demonstrates the power of the State in a playground bully kind of way, rather than any robustness of the law in a legal sense...

Comment by Brian Veenker on October 5, 2014 at 9:05am

@Andrew Agreed, the headline should have been "guilty plea" not "guilty verdict." These new regulations have not been tested by a judge or jury yet.

Comment by Quadzimodo on October 5, 2014 at 9:42am

I am really surprised there is such broad acceptance of the rule against flying in national parks over there, and I would be really interested to understand how you guys are rationalising this.

Just like you guys, I cringe when I see a video of an idiot terrorising a nest or taunting a bird in flight or when I read about some idiot dropping his drone into a hot spring, but it is important to keep things in perspective.  Lets not forget that there are other special interest groups who have an exponentially larger impact on our sensitive biosphere. Don't get me wrong, I do understand the need to prohibit people from flying above a sensitive natural treasure or protected a wildlife sanctuary (there are many parks and places in Australia that you can't fly an RC aircraft), but the idea of a blanket ban on flying in all national parks seems like a great injustice to me.

This one rule would appear to put much of America's unterritorialised (might not be a word, but you know what I mean) land out of bounds to the RC hobbyist, and all but eliminates one's ability to get above so many of your most wonderfully spectacular and scenic landscapes.

I imagine how epic it would/will be to experience the Grose Valley, which lies with the Blue Mountains National Park, from the air.

Or soar above the magnificent cliffs of the Great Australian Bight in the Nullarbor National Park (and perhaps catch a glimpse of a Southern Right).

These (perhaps rather childish) dreams feed my passion for this hobby and drive me forward in pursuit of making these imagined experiences real. As an RC pilot (my diydrones are treated as RC aircraft by CASA, as they are non commercial) I am free to deploy my craft just about anywhere it is sensible to do so (provided I exercise due care and observe some very basic guidelines for safe flight). I would be deeply saddened if our NPWS followed the actions of your NPS.


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