According to the National Park Service, a tourist crashed a camera-equipped drone into Grand Prismatic Spring, the park’s largest geothermal hot spring. In May, the National Park Service banned drones from Yosemite National Park, and in June that ban expanded to include all national parks. The Prismatic Spring crash is not the first drone crash on a national park, and it’s unlikely to be the last.
Civilian drones are cheap and getting cheaper, are easily controlled by smartphone or special remote control, and potentially operate in a legal gray area under American law. The park service’s ban is at least clear, and promises that the ban is temporary until a service-wide regulation is adopted. It also has exceptions for “search-and-rescue work, fire operations, and scientific study,” providing specific uses get prior approval. Ultimately, a new policy will address the needs of visitors, conservation, and animal protection better than both a blanket ban and a laissez faire approach.
In the meantime, park officials need to figure out how to find and extract the drone from the 121-foot-deep, 160-degree-Fahrenheit water. Perhaps they might want to use another, more stable drone for the search.