Man cited after landing helicopter in Grand Teton National Park and settling down for a picnic

Helicopter flying over mountain range
(Image credit: Getty)

A man has been cited for illegally landing a helicopter in Grand Teton National Park, then settling down for a picnic with a friend. Members of the public raised the alarm after seeing the chopper land by Jackson Lake on the afternoon of June 24, and Park Rangers went to investigate.

On the west shore they found the pilot, Peter Smith of Gunnison, Colorado, who was enjoying a picnic with a companion by the water.

Smith is the owner of West Elk Air, which offers helicopter tours of mountain ranges, game and unit scouring for hunters, photo and video flights, and transport for special events.

In a press statement, the National Park Service (NPS) explained that Smith was charged with two federal violations – one for landing in a prohibited area, and another for violating Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. Both of these are Class B misdemeanors, which could be punished by a fine of up to $5,000 and/or six months in jail. Smith is due to appear in court next month.

Can you fly over National Parks?

"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.

Recreational and commercial flights are permitted over National Parks, but with limitations. The airspace is managed by the FAA, which requires helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to maintain an altitude of at least 2,000ft to avoid disturbing animals and park visitors.

In February this year, Smith was cited for flying a fixed wing aircraft below the minimum safe altitude at Gunnison National Park, and was issued a $530 fine.

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.