Naturally, people are toting cremains into nature -- but that carries some major caveats. The federal Clean Water Act states that cremated remains cannot be scattered within three nautical miles of the shoreline. Aviation rules ban dumping hazardous materials over people. And the Clean Water Act put restrictions on tossing ashes into freshwater sources without proper permits. At the state level the rules can be even more restrictive depending on where you live and the local zoning rules.
Leaving ashes at sentimental sites can be ticklish as well. Thinking stadiums would make sense for dedicated fans, we asked media relations for the San Francisco Giants, New Orleans Saints, and New York Yankees, among others, about their policies about such last requests. All declined to respond. (The Chicago Cubs front-office spokesman explained in a voicemail: "It's not something we allow and don't want to encourage folks to do here." So much for your dreams of pushing up ivy.) Having been listed as a favorite site for illicit scattering in stories for Grimerica and Time, Disneyland similarly refused to comment on any undocumented ash placement at -- seriously, this is the lore -- the Haunted Mansion.
The macabre question is trickier than expected: how to send off your loved ones with dignity, without committing a felony. When in doubt, though, you can contact pilots who specialize in scattering ashes over mountains and oceans. We got a few of them talking about the science and art of flying the departed to their final resting place.
Paul Dino, New Hampshire
Take Wing Air
The first ashes I scattered were my parents' ashes. My father died many years ago, in the late ‘70s, and my mom passed away a couple years later. They wanted their remains spread over the Long Island Sound. So my sister and I mixed them together and took them up and scattered them out over the bay. I felt a great sense of closure and peace after that. That's what the business came out of.
I realized this was something you really have to put some work into to do it right. I've seen videos of pilots opening the window of their planes and just dumping the ashes out the side. I don't know if you've ever seen ashes, but they're not like a fine dust. They're gritty and they've got bits of bone in them. You dump it out the side of your plane and it's going to go back and hit the rear, it's like sandblasting your aircraft.
We actually had an engineer modify our plane to have a chute in the belly so it spreads out without hitting the plane. Without getting into all the FAA stuff about this, the plane had a hole cut in its belly already before we rigged the chute and that's just not something you can cut into any piece of avionics. You can't just hook up something like that to a plane. It has to go through a bunch of certification testing. In our case, the hole with a cover was already there so I just needed an engineer to design a simple scoop.
But to find another aircraft with that kind of cut in it again, I don't know if that's very likely. I could scatter another way, but I don't know how well it would work and this job is so important I don't want to do a poor job of it. Plus there are regulatory issues. The whole thing about scattering ashes falls under crop dusting, believe it or not. And you never want to do it in a helicopter because the physics of it will just pull those ashes right back into the cabin.
In my case, I'd do it with a co-pilot and myself. The co-pilot would be in charge of dumping the ashes and I'd be in charge of flying the plane. Mostly you're going out over the ocean, and even then you have to get the EPA involved since your cargo is considered hazardous waste. The EPA will only allow you to do it three miles out from shore and you have to send them the exact latitude and longitude. We'd give a map to the client with a Google Earth overlay so they knew exactly where the ashes were being scattered. Everyone was super thankful.