Balloonist Charged With Illegally Landing In Grand Teton National Park Blames Wind

A Jackson hot-air balloonist facing criminal penalties for landing in Grand Teton National Park argued on Tuesday that he had no choice as the wind swept him there and then an air traffic controller ordered him to land.

CM
Clair McFarland

November 07, 20234 min read

Moulton Barn at Grand Teton National Park in the morning
Moulton Barn at Grand Teton National Park in the morning (Shutterstock Images)

A Jackson hot-air balloonist facing criminal penalties for landing in the Grand Teton National Park is arguing that the wind swept him there and an air traffic controller ordered him to land.  

Operating or using aircraft in national parks, other than in designated areas, is punishable by up to six months in jail and $5,000 in fines, according to news reports.  

Richard Glas, a hot-air balloonist operating out of Jackson, Wyoming, touched down July 11 in the Grand Teton National Park while carrying six passengers in a hot air balloon.  

Glas was trying to get back to his launch point of the Snake River Ranch, he argued in a Tuesday filing in U.S. District Court, where he is charged. Glas’ attorney Bret F. King, of King and King LLC, wrote the filing.  

An unexpected wind gust blew Glas over the park and into the airspace of the Jackson Hole Airport.  

Another pilot who had launched with Glas landed near the airport.  

Glas thought he could ease toward the other pilot if only the wind would cooperate, but before he could figure that out, airport operations staffer Alex Clark instructed Glas to land as soon as it was safe to do so.  

So Glas landed.  

Once he was on the ground, federal park authorities cited Glas.  

Because, Wind 

People are guilty of illegal aircraft use if they operate or use aircraft in national parks other than on designated areas, or deliver or retrieve people or objects by air, except in emergencies.  

Some people can get permits exempting them from this federal rule, the language indicates.  

Glas is arguing that he didn’t “operate or use” his hot-air balloon in the park: he landed it and ceased using it the moment it touched down. The federal government has failed to prove that Glas was still using the balloon in a forbidden area, Glas claims in his filing.  

He also is launching the affirmative defense allowed under the federal rulethat his landing was due to elements beyond his control.  

“The landing was required by airport personnel,” reads Glas’ Tuesday filing. “The landing was necessitated by circumstances beyond (Glas’) control.” 

Helicopters and planes have a greater ability to avoid landing illegally, the filing argues.  

“By contrast, free balloons lack both power and steering,” it continues. “The only power the operator has is an airborne heater and its only ability is to lift the balloon in the vertical plane.” 

Guilty, Feds Say 

U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutor Amanda Hudson conversely argued in a Monday brief to the court that the government has proven Glas’ guilt under the law.  

While Glas isn’t admitting his guilt under the law, the prosecutor claims Glas and the court should accept that he’s guilty. The prosecutor also argues that Glas failed during his bench trial to prove that circumstances beyond his control caused his landing.   

“The United States has met its burden of proof in this case,” says Hudson’s filing. “A verdict of guilty is proper in this case.” 

Because, The Judge Is The Jury 

Glas attended a bench trial Oct. 17. A bench trial is a showing of evidence after which the judge, not a jury, decides whether to convict or acquit the defendant.  

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Hambrick oversaw Glas’ trial and ordered him and the prosecutor to submit additional arguments within three weeks of that trial.  

The memoranda filed this week are those late arguments, in which Glas is asking to be acquitted and the government is asking Hambrick to convict him.  

The judge had not ruled on Glas’ case as of publication time Tuesday.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter