Yellowstone National Park’s most famous drone pilot was fined and ordered to pay restitution last week for crashing his mini-aircraft into a famous hot spring.

Theodorus Van Vliet was the third Yellowstone visitor to run afoul of the recent National Park Service ban on drone flights in the park. Another man has been banned from the park for a year, and a third case is pending as the aircraft multiply and Park Service officials attempt to ground them.

Van Vliet, from the Netherlands, pleaded guilty last week and was sentenced to pay a fine of $1,000 and more than $2,200 in restitution for sinking his drone in Grand Prismatic, the park’s largest hot spring and one of its most famous thermal features.

Grand Prismatic is about 250 by 300 feet and about 160 feet deep, the third-largest hot spring in the world. Its near-boiling turquoise water is set off against a rust-colored shore that has been a magnet for photographers since the 1870s.

The drone — a four-engine DJI Phantom — remains lost in the spring. Park employees have been unable to spot it since it went down Aug. 2, according to park spokesman Al Nash.

Nash said at the time of the splashdown that officials were worried about “potential impacts to the iconic Yellowstone thermal feature,” though he acknowledged that even if the drone could be spotted it might be impossible to recover it.

Nash told the Jackson Hole News&Guide in August that “we are beginning to get an increasing number of complaints from park visitors about people illegally flying these devices” around the park.

That comment came soon after the June 20 ban by Park Service Director Jon Jarvis on drones launched from within the national parks.

Earlier this month, Andreas Meissner, 37, of Koenigswinter, Germany, was banned from Yellowstone for a year, given a year of probation and ordered to pay fines and restitution of more than $1,600 for his own drone misadventure.

Meissner crashed a drone into Yellowstone Lake near West Thumb Marina on July 18. He was flying the camera drone to record a charity cycling event, he told rangers. That drone was recovered, and a check of its camera revealed it had also been flown over Midway Geyser Basin and Grant Village, rangers said.

The case against Donald Criswell, of Molalla, Oregon, is pending. Criswell ran into rangers Aug. 19 when he flew a drone over the crowded Midway Geyser Basin and close to bison. He has an October appointment with the federal magistrate in Mammoth Hot Springs.

Grand Teton National Park hasn’t escaped illegal drone overflights, though it has avoided having the devices piling up on the bottom of lakes and springs.

Just two days after the Park Service ban, Dennis Raettig, 68, of California, lost his drone the way so many kite-flyers lose their toys: in a tree.

Raettig was flying the drone on a photo mission at the Gros Ventre Campground when the $1,400 machine ran into a cottonwood. He called park officials to report the problem

When park officials checked a day later they found that the aircraft had disappeared, assumed to have been stolen.

Mark Huffman edits copy and occasionally writes some, too. He's been a journalist since newspapers had typewriters and darkrooms.

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(1) comment

James Morrison

They fined a guy from the Netherlands? Seriously?
Yeah, let me know how the enforcement works on getting him to ever pay that.

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