On Friday, June 12, rangers on patrol at a large wakeboard competition in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area observed a helicopter hover near an assortment of beached houseboats, ski boats, jet skis, several dozen swimmers, and about 100 spectators along the shoreline. Several passengers jumped into the water from the helicopter. Then the helicopter landed atop a houseboat.
Ranger Jared St. Clair subsequently questioned the pilot, a 33-year old man operating his chopper out of St. George, Utah, and arrested him for illegal air delivery of passengers and creating a hazardous condition. This gentleman had run afoul of the provisions of Title 36 CFR 2.17 Aircraft and air delivery, which specify in part (a)(3) that, in the context of our national parks, prohibited activities include:
Delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means, except in emergencies involving public safety or serious property loss, or pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit.
This was not the pilot’s first brush with the park’s LEO’s. Since receiving an initial warning in 2003, he has received four (as in F-O-U-R) citations for improperly operating his helicopter in the park. Two of these citations were received as recently as last year.
Glen Canyon’s Chief Ranger, Brent McGinn, told me that the chopper pilot has been doing the houseboat landing thing as a means of skirting the ban on ground landings in the park. In the process, he has annoyed a lot of other park visitors. (Have you ever seen a helicopter that could be landed without creating quite a stir?) “We're getting lots of calls on this guy,” ranger McGinn explained, “He is not at all popular with our other visitors.”
When hauled before a federal magistrate to answer for the most recent charges, the chopper pilot entered a plea of not guilty. No trial date has been set yet.