YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – In a first-of-its-kind federal prosecution, a German national who crashed a drone into Yellowstone National Park's Lake Yellowstone has received one year of unsupervised probation as well as a one-year ban from the park, 9Wants To Know learned.
Andreas Meissner, 37, operated an unmanned aircraft – known as a Phantom 2 – over the marina at Lake Yellowstone on July 18. The drone crashed shortly after takeoff after appearing to suffer power loss. The drone and a video card located inside an attached GoPro camera were eventually recovered by a diver 10 days later.
The crash came a month after the National Park Service banned the use of unmanned aircraft throughout the national park system. Two other drone operators face similar federal charges, including one who accidentally crashed a drone into Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring on Aug. 2. That drone has yet to be recovered.
Meissner appeared via telephone in a federal courtroom located inside Yellowstone National Park last week. In exchange for his decision to plead guilty to three charges, the US Attorney's Office agreed to drop one charge of giving a false report to a government employee. The US Attorney's Office also agreed to allow Meissner to avoid a possible jail sentence by serving a year of probation in Germany. Because it is unsupervised probation, no one with the US government will be checking in on him. Meissner was also ordered to pay more than $1,600 in fines and restitution.
The National Park Service issued a nationwide ban on drones inside national parks on June 20.
"This is, frankly, a new management challenge for us at Yellowstone," said Yellowstone spokesperson Al Nash. "Up until this summer, [drone use] had been a very infrequent issue – really not something that we had run into. It became an issue this year."
Meissner was recording video for a German nonprofit called Run and Ride for Reading. Meissner explained he was shooting the video for a friend who wanted to record a charity bicycle tour as it made its way across the United States.
Federal prosecutors alleged Meissner never fully explained to park rangers he intended to shoot video with the help of a drone when he entered the park.
Meissner was caught after he reached out to the National Park Service in an effort to recover his drone, GoPro, and SD card.
A diver found the drone under around 13 feet of water 10 days after it crashed. The National Park Service then seized the equipment. An investigator with the NPS, was eventually able to view video from the SD card which showed two additional flights over Yellowstone.
Following Wednesday's court hearing, 9Wants to Know was able to obtain the video through federal open records laws.
Reached via email, Meissner told 9Wants to Know investigator Chris Vanderveen that he didn't want to comment on the specifics of the case, but said he was "glad you can use the tapes."
To date, Meissner has not seen his own work. In his email to Vanderveen, he said the publicity might actually be a good thing because it will allow him to see some of his video for the first time. "I'm really keen on watching the story and my clips that I've never seen 'cause of well-known reasons," he wrote.
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