MUNCY, Pa. (AP) — State police used shotguns Thursday to deflate a wayward surveillance blimp that broke loose in Maryland before coming down into trees in the Pennsylvania countryside.
It could take days, or even weeks, to remove the blimp, which came down Wednesday, said U.S. Army Captain Matthew Villa. He said it is in two “mostly intact” pieces, with the main body and the tail section a few hundred meters apart.
Very sensitive electronics onboard have been removed but the vast majority of blimp is still there, Villa said. The wreckage was secured with additional ropes and state police troopers were using shotguns to deflate it Thursday morning, he said.
The blimp’s remains were in trees along a ravine in a hard-to-access area with no roads leading directly to the site and officials are working on the removal plan.
“The terrain is extremely steep,” he said. “It’s rocky, slippery, leaves, in fact there’s a stream going through the site as well.”
The slow-moving, unmanned Army surveillance blimp broke loose from its mooring at Aberdeen Proving Ground and then floated over Pennsylvania for hours Wednesday afternoon causing electrical outages as its tether hit power lines.
The 240-foot helium-filled blimp, which had two fighter jets on its tail, came down near Muncy, a small town about 80 miles north of Harrisburg, the state capital. No injuries were reported.
The radar-equipped blimp, fitted with sensitive defense technology, escaped from the facility around 12:20 p.m. Authorities said it drifted northward, climbing to about 16,000 feet. It covered about 150 miles over about 3½ hours.
Villa said it was also unknown how the blimp broke loose, and an investigation was underway.
Michael Negard, spokesman for the Army Combat Readiness Center, said a two-person accident-investigation team is heading to the site. He said the investigation is considered “Class A,” a label applied to an event that might have caused at least $2 million in property damage; involved a destroyed, missing or abandoned Army aircraft or missile; or caused injury.
People gawked in wonder and disbelief as the blimp floated silently over the sparsely populated area, its dangling tether taking out power lines.
Ken Hunter, an outdoors writer and wildlife illustrator, was working from home when he got a call from his wife that a blimp was coming down nearby.
He drove up the road a short distance and, sure enough, there was the tail section hanging from a tree, looking to him like a big white sheet. He took some pictures before state police closed the road.
Hunter said it came within a few hundred yards of his son’s house.
“We’re very fortunate that there weren’t some people hurt up here,” he said Thursday.
Hunter took a dim view of the military?s handling of the ordeal, questioning how such a pricey piece of equipment could just float away.
“I don’t drive a brand-new car, but I take pretty good care of it. And it’s probably a $10,000 vehicle if I’m lucky,” he said.
Associated Press writers Kristen de Groot in Philadelphia and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
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