Balloon pilot blames rogue gust of wind after being charged with illegal landing in Grand Teton National Park

Hot air balloon with Grand Teton in background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A hot air balloon pilot from Wyoming is facing criminal charges after touching down in Grand Teton National Park. Richard Glas of Wyoming Balloon Company landed in the park back in June, while carrying six passengers.

As Cowboy State Daily explains, it's illegal to operate or use aircraft in US National Parks outside designated areas, or deliver or retrieve people or objects by air, except in emergencies or on official government business, as set out in the NPS Code of Federal Regulations.

In a bench trial, Glas explained that he had been blown off-course by an unexpected gust of wind, which carried him into the airspace of Jackson Hole Airport. He had hoped the wind would carry him away from the National Park, but was ordered to land as soon as possible by an member of aircraft operations staff. Once he landed, he received a citation from federal park authorities.

Glas argued that he was forced to land by circumstances outside his control, and that the federal government hasn't proved that he was using the balloon within the National Park (he stopped using it the moment it touched down).

During the trial, prosecutor Amanda Hudson argued that Glas had failed to prove that the circumstances of the landing were outside his control, and said that the government had met its burden of proof.

The result of the trial, which will be decided by a judge rather than a jury, has yet to be declared.

Rough landings

In July, a helicopter pilot also blamed bad weather for forcing a landing in Grand Teton National Park. Peter Smith of Gunnison, Colorado, denied claims that members of the public had seen him settling down for a picnic after landing.

"The unauthorized landing of helicopters is prohibited on the lands and waters within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park in order to protect wildlife and other natural resources and to preserve the visitor experience," said the NPS in a news release.

"We were trying to cross over the Tetons and we couldn’t, so we landed. We were not having a picnic. We were landing," Smith told the Associated Press.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.