Pilots fined for illegal drone flights filming buds free climbing Mont-Saint-Michel’s ancient abbey [Update]

illegal drone flights

A pair of friends paid a high price for their illegal drone flights around France’s famed Mont-Saint-Michel earlier this year. On Wednesday a court slapped them with fines for breaking two different regulations as they filmed chums committing even worse legal infractions in the name of, um, something really stupid.

The two men were found guilty by a judge in western France after admitting to having piloted their craft around the celebrated Normandy island while their friends attempted to free climb the spire of its abbey, whose origins date back to 708. To make things worse, the historical and cultural treasure – on an island that was for centuries inaccessible to obnoxious invaders except at low tide – was closed and under renovation at the time. The climbers chose a weekend to use scaffolding erected by construction workers to mount the base of the structure and begin their ascent as the drone cameras rolled.

To make things really, really worse, the knucklehead climbs of the abbey and flights filming them were, incredibly, two separate events: the first taking place in February, and the second in March after an entirely different group of yoyos decided to try the same stunt. Apparently, dumb news travels fast.

The two pilots got off relatively easy for their flagrantly illegal drone flights around the site – though their wallets will feel some pain of their judicial crash-landing nevertheless. Reports say the judge in the case hit one of the duo with a fine of $2,348 to make his displeasure clear, then suspended all but $352 because the defendant had no previous record. The other operator received a $4,695 fine that was similarly reduced to $352. French officials have noted, however, that any and all trespassing on cultural and historical sites will be “systematically prosecuted.”

The pair were convicted of operating aerial craft that failed to conform to standing regulations – the wordy French formulation of “unregistered with authorities as required.” The other offense was flying the drones in one of the country’s countless yet emphatically designated no-fly zones – the prohibited nature of Mont-Saint-Michel being easily discernible by the bright red circle around it on France’s map of restricted areas.

But when you’re making illegal drone flights to record even worse crimes of stupidity like trying to scale the spire of a Gothic church whose construction took 1,300 years to complete, just how much is the risk of violating no-flight rules going put you off? Not at all, it would appear.

As for the three climbers involved in the case, their trial for more serious charges carrying stiffer potential penalties is scheduled for November. Though it’s still uncertain whether the judge will actually hand them jail time for the stunt as laws allow, it’s unlikely the magistrate will be applying fines imposed an equally light hand. 

November 9 Update

Despite the tough talk by prosecutors going into it, the judge in the second case wound up being relatively lenient in his sentencing – just as his predecessor had been.

When the penalties were handed down for the more serious charges of violating drone regulations and no-flight zoning restrictions, gone were any potential jolts in prison, and even the fines were considerably lightened through suspensions.

The maximal $928 fine for the infractions were cut in half for both pilots. Meaning, combined with their earlier sentencing, each drone cinematographer of the outrageous and potentially destructive climbers got off with a relatively cheap legal bill of $816.

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