Yellowstone enforcing ban on unmanned aircraft operation

(Yellowstone National Park) – This past June, due to concerns about public safety, wildlife disturbance and potential impacts to the visitor experience and park resources, the National Park Service enacted an interim policy banning the operation of unmanned aircraft.

While taking a largely educational stance during the early phases of publicizing the ban, Yellowstone rangers have developed several criminal cases involving egregious violations of this ban.

World-wide attention was drawn to an incident where an unmanned aircraft crashed into Grand Prismatic Spring the afternoon of August 2.  Theodorus Van Vliet of the Netherlands crashed his unmanned aircraft into the iconic hot spring. 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.

Park staff members are still trying to determine if the material from which the unmanned aircraft 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.

Last week, rangers responded to another incident regarding the illegal operation of an unmanned aircraft in the park.  Donald Criswell of Molalla, Oregon, was charged with violating the ban after he flew his unmanned aircraft over the crowded Midway Geyser Basin and close to bison on August 19.

Earlier this week, charges were filed against a German national for a July 17th incident in which an unmanned aircraft 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.

In all criminal cases, the accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, and the government always has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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 online at  It is also highlighted on the front page and inside the fall edition of the Official Park Newspaper which is distributed to visitors at park entrance stations and is also posted to the web at

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.

–Provided by Yellowstone National Park


  1. Park Thrillers

    Heading to a national park this summer? Like thrillers? Take this with you.

  2. David Young

    Throw them all in jail and feed them ex-lax!

  3. Anita Gouger

    It's gods country not moron country. Prosecute them to the fullest!

  4. Sean Coulton

    While I agree that the crashing of these radio controlled aircraft into significant geological treasures can be a problem, especially if they are difficult to retrieve and can cause short-term or long-term damage to the geological feature. However, the continued misinformation on any remote controlled aircraft being a "drone" or "UAV" under the law is absurd and directly in contradiction to extensive existing case law. The issue is that there is currently no actual regulations from the FAA on UAVs and all the charges that are being filed for violation are actually very contestable, due to this fact. The whole point of the FAA's mandate to create regulations for UAVs by 2015 is to address this fact and currently everyone that is charged with violations for UAV related issues are not actually being charged for violation of a regulation, but in fact only a Federal Register notice, which is not a regulation and has not gone through the same process to become an actual regulation. The issue at hand is that there is constant misrepresentation of what is actually allowed under the law for model aircraft and that some of the operating guidelines are in fact regulations, which they are not. Flying model aircraft is not governed by any of the UAV Register Noice as quoted from the FAA at

    "Flying model aircraft solely for hobby or recreational reasons does not require FAA approval. However, hobbyists are advised to operate their aircraft in accordance with the agency's model aircraft guidelines (see Advisory Circular 91-57). In the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-95, Sec 336), Congress exempted model aircraft from new rules or regulations provided the aircraft are operated "in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization.""

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