A Chilean tourist who admitted to illegally flying a drone through a firefighting operation near Wanaka has forfeited his $1700 machine because he couldn't afford the fine.
Jorge Eduardo Riquelme-Cruz, 33, appeared in Hamilton District Court on Friday after his case was transferred from Queenstown.
He pleaded guilty to operating an unmanned drone in a manner that caused unnecessary danger to firefighting pilots and their helicopters earlier this month.
A Department of Conservation ranger in charge of the ground crew estimated the drone came within 50m of two descending helicopters.
The choppers, which were battling a blaze on Mount Roy, had to be grounded for about 15 minutes which allowed the fire to advance a further five-10 hectares.
It is believed the grounding cost approximately $8000-$10,000 in lost flying time.
"You made a deliberate choice to fly your drone putting the pilots in danger of a catastrophic situation which was a bad lapse in judgement," Judge Kim Saunders told Riquelme-Cruz.
She had initially considered fining him $4000, which he could not afford to pay. A sentence of 200 hours' community work was unenforceable because Riquelme-Cruz's holiday visa expires next week.
He instead offered to forfeit his $1700 drone to the police as a fine in recognition of the harm done.
Riquelme-Cruz will fly out of New Zealand next Thursday where he will do volunteer work for Save the Children.