Despite the official ban of unmanned aircraft from US national parks in June 2014, an unidentified tourist reportedly crashed a drone straight into the famous rainbow-colored Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming last August.
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According to the park spokesperson, Amy Bartlett, who spoke with Live Science, although investigations are ongoing, the drone is yet to be recovered and extent of damage the crash caused to the site is yet to be determined.
Within the park, Grand Prismatic is named for its colorful algae mat, which circles the spring in shades of red, orange, yellow, and green.
“It’s a hugely popular, photographic hot spring in Yellowstone,” says Bartlett, who also observed that while park officials aren’t sure of it yet, the tourist was likely flying the drone over the hot spring to capture an image.
It was gathered that park officials haven’t yet recovered the downed drone from Grand Prismatic, partly because they have not determined where the vehicles landed in the spring, shared Bartlett. Measuring more than 300 feet (91 meters) across and reaching depths of 160 feet (49 m), the hot spring is the largest in the United States and the third-largest in the world.
“We’ll probably have to fly a real, piloted helicopter over it to get the exact location,” says Bartlett. She also added that because of the spring’s large algae mat, the ground surrounding the site is soft, making it difficult for park officials to assess the situation on foot.
“We don’t know what damage may have been caused when it entered the hot spring, but we also don’t know what kind of damage could be caused either by leaving it there or by taking it out,” Bartlett said.
The person responsible for the downed drone is yet to be identified, but Bartlett said that other park visitors reported witnessing a tourist on a nearby boardwalk controlling a drone that later fell into Grand Prismatic.
It was also learnt that the drone pilot did report the incident to officials at the park’s visitor center, but it wasn’t clear to Yellowstone employees at the time that the drone was still in the hot spring, Bartlett added. Though the pilot was not apprehended nor identified by park officials, investigation into the matter is ongoing.
Bartlett also added that the park officials had earlier this summer recovered a drone that had crashed near a marina in Yellowstone Lake. Similar cases have been reported by other national parks. In April, visitors to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona complained to park officials that a noisy drone flying overhead ruined their evening sunset. Earlier in April, drone handlers in Zion National Park in Utah were caught harassing a herd of bighorn sheep with a robotic flyer.
These events drove the National Park Service to issue a formal ban on drones in June. The order, which went into effect on June 20, cites noise, harassment of wildlife, and visitor safety as a few of the reasons for prohibiting these flying robots over federally administered lands and waters.
Unfortunately, Bartlett concluded by saying that drones are not the only items that find their way into the hot springs at Yellowstone. Visitors often confuse these environmental landmarks with wishing wells or even garbage cans, throwing coins and trash into the springs.