Dutch Visitor Fined $3000 for Crashing Drone at Yellowstone

A Dutch man who was visiting Yellowstone National Park was fined $3,000 (£1,847) for crashing his done into the Grand Prismatic hot spring when he pled guilty to the charge of illegally flying a drone last week. He is not the first person who was levied a fine for drone flight this year either. A German man was also fined $1600 for losing his drone in Yellowstone Lake. 

This may be a serious trend of fines and even jail time, seeing that the National Park Service has banned all use of unmanned aircraft this June, with exception of emergency usage. Their official statement can be found on their website. If this policy stands, you could face a fine up to $5000 and/or jail time of up to 6 months. Different parks have released inconsistant park alerts in an attempt to curb the use of drones. This has left park visitors confused as to what the actual rules are. This is the alert from Yosemite National Park:

Yosemite National Park advises visitors that the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) are prohibited within park boundaries due to regulations outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Specifically, the use of drones within the park boundaries is illegal under all circumstances. Thirty Six CFR 2.17(a)(3) states, “delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means, except in emergencies involving public safety or serious property loss, or pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit” is illegal. This applies to drones of all shapes and sizes. 

The park has experienced an increase in visitors using drones within park boundaries over the last few years. Drones have been witnessed filming climbers ascending climbing routes, filming views above tree-tops, and filming aerial footage of the park. Drones can be extremely noisy, and can impact the natural sounds cape. Drones can also impact the wilderness experience for other visitors creating an environment that is not conducive to wilderness travel. The use of drones also interferes with emergency rescue operations and can cause confusion and distraction for rescue personnel and other parties involved in the rescue operation. Additionally, drones can have negative impacts on wildlife nearby the area of use, especially sensitive nesting peregrine falcons on cliff walls. 

Visitors traveling to the park should be aware that the use of drones is prohibited while visiting the park and should not be utilized at any time. 

This is a bit of a stretch to use CFR  2.17(a)(3) to ban flight in a national park especially when the CFR is titled "Aircraft and delivery". You can find this CFR sandwiched between "2.16 - Horses and pack animals" and "2.18 - Snowmobiles". I'm not sure the intended frame of reference was to ban consumer drones with a 6.7 oz GoPro payload. 

The opportunity to capture footage like this may have, sadly, passed. All previous unmanned vehicle permits have been suspended until they can be reviewed by the associate director and the Visitor and Resource Protection directorate. With the rate things move in the government, you're likely to be waiting a while. 

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Ariel Martini's picture

too bad we will never see his yet another full of rolling shutter crappy video :(

Eduardus Lee's picture

Why is the fine also converted to British Pound Sterling? We pay with Euro's in the Netherlands! ;-)

$3,000 US is €2365,-

Kyle Ford's picture

Good catch! Whoops.

jordi mol's picture

Ah, the US at his smallest... Its not allowed to fly a drone in a national park, but for the US, flying a drone (or a dozen) above Pakistan, Syria etc is a good thing, while dropping bombs.

LA M's picture

LOL ya...now it's a party.

Michael Rapp's picture

Call me out on being a traditionalist conservative on this one, but what's so hard to understand about "Specifically, the use of drones within the park boundaries is illegal under all circumstances".
Those drones aren't toys, and operating those things on premises that aren't yours you'd better ask permission first.
I think this incident is one of those reasons they put up the ban in the first place, and the 3000 Bucks are there to show they mean it.
However, it saddens me that it had to come to this, I guess this being due to peeping tom drones, reckles drones or crashed drones on people's heads.
Now, it' costs $ 3K to remind some visitors to behave like guests, at all times.
Just my 2 cents...

Jason Ranalli's picture

Agree wholeheartedly. I'm sorry these things have no business being in our parks. On top of that, they should be licensed...just like anything else that is a privilege in this country.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

Is the policy posted or handed out at the gate? I can understand someone, especially tourists who aren't as up to date on our local laws, to make a mistake. But the policy should be well posted as well as on the maps they hand out when you enter the park.

I'm a bit of a conservationist so I completely agree that drones shouldn't be allowed and people who violate that policy should be fined.

Michael Kormos's picture

I don't think the Park Service is to blame because they didn't notify the foreigner of the laws. I think it's fairly common sense that you should not fly remote control gizmos and crash them at a place like a National Park. If you lack that common sense, you should most certainly pay for your own ignorance. Yellowstone is a beautiful place, and we honestly don't need this sort of crap flying around. The sound alone is irritating. The fine probably doesn't even cover the cost of removing that junk from the hot spring.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

They should absolutely post their policies, especially since they seem to vary from park to park. Even Americans would benefit from in park regulations being made known. I've never entered any park without their policies posted and/or given to me when I pay. If someone violates it, sure, fine them to kingdom come. But if they don't post it anywhere, then one can't be expected to know.

It isn't common sense to some people. In the US, it should be common sense that you can't go on someone's property without their permission even if it appears to be unmantained wilderness, but in places like Norway you can hike wherever you want as long as it isn't clearly maintained property (like a landscaped yard). What is common sense in the US is based on our working knowledge of laws and manners.

I detest drones, especially in a natural setting where the wildlife is protected. They're noisy, obnoxious, and people are complete morons when flying them around. They should not be allowed in any national or state park or where endangered wildlife is living. But yes, you do need to post somewhere that they are not allowed. In Florida we have signs warning not to molest the alligators, I'm sure the money is somewhere to post about drones too.

Vince Smith's picture

I agree with the birds of prey letting them nest in peace because they will investigate and attack.......but as far as noise I have DJI phantom and phantom+, i also have 11 beehives which the phantoms are no louder than a swarm of bees.....also isn't the number of visitors to parks at a all time low you'd think they'd be welcoming free advertising ??

Kyle Ford's picture

Good points. It probably wouldn't be much of a deal if it were more secluded parks, with less visitor traffic, and people were more responsible drone owners.

james johnson's picture

I'm not sure visitor numbers are at an all time low. Last I heard they had dropped some because of the economy, but reservations were required to enter the most popular parks.

LA M's picture

We have laws in the USA that are pretty brutal on the punishment side for harassing certain wildlife...you may not think it's a big deal but I recall a certain photographer years ago who got a rude surprise...


Be warned...

Kyle Ford's picture

There are some people back where I'm originally from that were using small helicopters to chase Elk to gather their sheds. The big outfitters are also using large drones to scout for deer / elk. It's a serious issue in Nevada and Utah.

Michael Kormos's picture

Kyle have you been to a national park during the peak season lately? Crowds, and lots of them, ESPECIALLY at places like Yellowstone. I'm just waiting for one of these toys to get spun out of control by a gust of wind, and fall onto someone's face. I don't think every Bob & Todd should be flying around with these noisy, intrusive gadgets because "it's cool". National Parks attract people for their pristine beauty, and peace & quiet goes along with it. I think you ought to be trained in how to use one, possibly licensed, and definitely given a permit at a place like a National Park before being allowed to play with it. If it was me, I would've made that Dutch visitor dive into the hot spring and fish it out himself.

Kyle Ford's picture

I haven't been to Yellowstone since I was a kid, but I do remember there being tones of people. I really do agree with you about every Tom, Dick, Harry being able to fly around with these. But there are also professionals who use these and know what they are doing. Most of the pro grade ones also have features that if they lose contact to return to the launch spot and set down.

Jeroen de Jong's picture

It was clear; no drones is no drones.
But he was Dutch. And here in The Netherlands, we allways think that rules only apply to others.

Besides that, the change that you get busted in The Netherlands is pretty small.
For example; If I'm drunk and I ride my bike at night without any lights, I can pass a policecar and if I don't wave to them; nothing happens. Don't ask for attention and nothing happens over here.

We always complain that there is not enough Police on our streets. But they also don't have enough power to act when something is wrong. I can give you enough examples.
It's about de-escalating and not about inforcing the law. And that gives us Dutch a lot of room to think that rules don't apply to us.

So if there is a sign that says "no flying with drones" and you ignore it, you got told by a police-officer that you have to stop. And that's it. I'm glad to see that in Yellowstone you get a ticket that makes you think twice next time. No is no, isn't it?

Felix C's picture

Kyle, this is a poorly written article. Since when the Fstoppers become on the same level as TMZ? Where in all the regulations is there confusion about that all drones are not permitted in all parks? Drones are considered aircraft. All R/C planes are considered aircraft. R/C planes which have been around for 50 years before "consumer" drones and have always been banned.

I really do not understand why so many people think that drones are so special and are exempt for all the rules. Just because they have a camera on board?

Kyle Ford's picture

I'm not sure what you are referring to exactly. They are creating confusion themselves and define an aircraft exactly as "Aircraft means a device that is used or intended to be used for human flight in the air, including powerless flight." This is taken right from 36 CFR 1.4