A Dutch visitor to Yellowstone National Park has been fined more than $3,000 after crashing a drone into Grand Prismatic Spring in August.
Theodorus Van Vliet pleaded guilty in federal court this week to violating a park ban against operating an unmanned aircraft. He was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay more than $2,200 in restitution, according to a statement released by the park’s public affairs office.
Van Vliet’s mishap drew global attention after his small, remote-controlled helicopter plunged into the largest hot spring in Yellowstone. The multi-colored pool is a favorite among photographers and visitors because it measures 200–330 feet in diameter and is more than 120 feet deep. Grand Prismatic Spring displays a rainbow of varying colors thanks to a range of bacteria dwelling at different temperate zones in the massive thermal feature.
The park has been unable to find the unmanned aircraft, which remains somewhere on the floor of the iconic hot spring.
Park spokesman Al Nash said in August that a leaky battery or decaying components might be harmful to microbial life in Grand Prismatic. But locating and removing the drone might also disrupt the hot spring, Nash said, so officials are considering a range of factors.
Park officials have stepped up their enforcement and education efforts after a series of incidents involving drones in Yellowstone this summer. Pilots typically use the drones to capture photos and videos, often controlling the aircraft with smartphones.
Earlier this month, Andreas Meissner of Germany 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 in return for a guilty plea in connection with operating an unmanned aircraft which crashed into Yellowstone Lake near the West Thumb Marina in July 18.
A third case is pending against Donald Criswell of Molalla, Oreg., who has been charged with violating the drone ban after allegedly flying his unmanned aircraft over the crowded Midway Geyser Basin and close to bison on August 19. Criswell’s case is scheduled to be heard in federal court in Mammoth Hot Springs in October.
The unauthorized use of unmanned aerial vehicles is prohibited nationwide on all lands and waters administered by the National Park System.
Park officials in Yellowstone say violators will be contacted, investigated and may be subject to confiscation of their unmanned aircraft, a mandatory court appearance and fines.