An unmanned Army surveillance blimp detached from its mooring in Maryland but has been secured after it returned to the ground. The blimp was spotted floating over Pennsylvania, dragging its tether across power lines and causing blackouts.
The blimp came loose from the military’s Aberdeen Proving Ground at around 12:20 p.m. As reported by 6abc.com, it rose to about 16,000 feet and flew for close to 150 miles for over 3 hours. The blimp was equipped with sensitive defense technology. NORAD said that it “is mostly deflated and located in the vicinity of Moreland Township, Pennsylvania. Local authorities are securing the area and there is a military recovery team en route,” as reported by CNN.
Columbia County Department of Public Safety Director, Fred Hunsinger, said there have been no reports of injuries. However, the incident caused power outages, with as many as 15,000 without electricity in the Bloomsburg area, Joe Nixon, with PPL Electric, said. He further added that there are “reports that the blimp hit power lines in the Bloomsburg area.” Investigations were being conducted.
The blimp ultimately returned to earth after deflating, Navy Capt. Scott Miller, a spokesman for the nation’s air defense command, said. He added that while there is an auto-deflate device on the blimp, it hadn’t been activated. It is also unclear how the blimp detached from the mooring, a matter which is being looked into by investigators.
Tiffany Slusser Hartkorn spotted the blimp flying over her neighborhood on the outskirts of Bloomsburg. “I honestly was worried that there were people in it that would be injured,” she said. “A neighbor down the road is thinking it knocked down a tree branch and power pole by his house that could’ve potentially destroyed his house.”
The blimp, known as a Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS), is used to identify hostile missiles and aircraft – they have been deployed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to provide radar surveillance.
Jason Jarinko, who is a teacher at Central Columbia High School in Bloomsburg, said a student noticed the blimp and notified him. “We just kind of scoffed that he had seen a bird or something, and he said, ‘No, look!’ and it was this blimp coming at us from the east,” Jarinko said. “As it got closer to us, all of a sudden our lights started to flicker and we lost power. At first, we didn’t realize the two events were related.”
Raytheon, the producer of the blimp, said in a post on its website that there is a “very small” likelihood that the tether would break. “The chance of that happening is very small because the tether is made of Vectran and has withstood storms in excess of 100 knots,” the post says. “However, in the unlikely event it does happen, there are a number of procedures and systems in place which are designed to bring the aerostat down in a safe manner.”