A California doctor has been charged with illegally landing his helicopter in Canyonlands National Park so that he could relieve himself.
The National Park Service cited W. Graham Wood, Newport Beach, Calif., with operating an aircraft in an undesignated area."It's a grievous offense," said Chief Ranger Tony Schetzsle. "It's our position that pilots should know where they are at all times and they shouldn't land unless it's an emergency. That wasn't the case here."
Well, that depends on one's definition of "emergency."
"He said he was looking for a place to refuel but it was really because nature called," Schetzsle said.
"Calls of nature," however, are not covered under a Park Service regulation that bans aircraft landings in Canyonlands.
Two backpackers saw Wood's helicopter land in Chessler Park, a popular hiking/-back-packing area in Canyonlands' Needles District, on Jan. 2. The backpackers and another party who saw the chopper take off reported the incident the next day.
"They did not like what they saw," Schetzsle said.
Rangers traced the helicopter to the Green River airport and, with the help of local air-taxi operators, were able to identify it as belonging to Wood, who was contacted by the park by letter. Wood was apparently en route home from Vail, Colo.
After receiving Wood's response to the letter, rangers decided to charge Wood with the offense, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine. However, it carries a $100 bail, which the doctor could pay now to clear it up, Schetzsle said.
The errant helicopter landing comes at an inopportune time. The Moab area is currently the scene of a brewing controversy over aircraft and their impact on Canyonlands and Arches national parks and other areas whose solitude is their major lure to back-country enthusiasts.
"There is a lot of concern for low-lying aircraft and this just aggravates that," Schetzsle said.
Wood did not return Deseret News phone calls.