Excuse-laden helicopter pilot flies into trouble with illegal picnic in Grand Teton National Park

A Colorado man admitted to illegally landing his helicopter in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park, but he has an excuse — his passenger wasn't feeling well. However, this doesn't jibe with the National Park Service's account of the incident. They reported that rangers responded to a report of an illegal helicopter landing and found the pilot and a female companion picnicking along the lake.

The pilot, West Elk Air owner Peter Smith, had a second excuse: he was forced to land because of bad weather. And, as if competing with excuse-making-king Donald Trump, he came up with a third excuse: he wasn't aware he'd landed in the park.

As reported in Cowboy State Daily:

"We had a sick passenger and there was bad weather in the Tetons so we couldn't cross the Tetons," Smith told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Smith said he checked his maps before landing but the boundaries were unclear.

"We did not know we were in the park," he said. "When you look down you see 10 motorboats circling around with water skiers, you don't assume it's a national park."

Smith refused to say what he was doing in the area or whether his passenger was a client or a companion.

"All of these articles are coming up saying we had a picnic — there was no picnic," he told Cowboy State Daily. "There was no enjoyment going on. We just landed there for 10 minutes before the U.S. Forest Service showed up. They gave us our ticket and then we were out."

Smith was charged with two violations under the Code of Federal Regulations, "Operating or using aircraft on lands or waters other than at locations designated pursuant to special regulations" and "Use of aircraft shall be in accordance with regulations of the FAA." Each violation is a Class B misdemeanor that could include up to a $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

This isn't the first time Smith has run afoul of national park laws. He was previously cited for flying a fixed-wing aircraft below minimum safe altitude, against Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park just four months ago in February 2023. Smith paid a $530 fine set by a federal judge.