Fighter jets scrambled to track a military blimp that broke free from its mooring in Maryland and floated away Wednesday afternoon.
Some 17,000 customers in Columbia County, 9,000 in Schuylkill County and 2,000 in Montour County were without electricity. Four hours and 160 miles later, the wayward blimp came down in Pennsylvania.
NBC News reported:
WASHINGTON — An unmanned Army surveillance blimp broke free of its mooring at a Maryland proving ground Wednesday and drifted more than 120 miles north into Pennsylvania, dragging a long tether that knocked out power to thousands, officials said.
The 243-foot-long, helium-filled aerostat broke free from Aberdeen Proving Ground at around 12:20 p.m., and a pair of F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to track it as it drifted north, before the blimp came down more than 3 hours later, North American Aerospace Defense Command said.
The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) surveillance aerostat landed at around 4 p.m. in a wooded area near Moreland Township, Pennsylvania, NORAD said.
There were no injuries reported. NORAD said a military recovery team was on the way to the area. Moreland Township is about 20 miles east of Williamsport, and about 120 miles northwest of the proving ground. At one point the blimp climbed to 16,000 feet, NORAD said.
The blimp had a tether of approximately 6,700 feet — more than a mile — attached when it broke free, Aberdeen Proving Ground said.
The dragging cable knocked out power to around 30,000 people in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said in a statement. By Wednesday night power was restored to most customers, with 311 without electricity as of 11 p.m., power company PPL Electric said.
Power company PPL Electric Utilities said it was assessing damage caused by the cable, which occurred mainly in Columbia and Schuylkill counties, which are south of where the blimp came down.
The F-16 fighter jets, scrambled out of Atlantic City, New Jersey, followed the blimp but there was no thought of shooting the aerostat down, NORAD officials said.
The tail section detached first, and was found about a quarter-mile from where the rest of the blimp landed, officials said.
NORAD said it worked closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to keep commercial airlines informed of the blimp’s location to avoid any close calls.
NORAD said it was still trying to determine how the blimp got loose. Officials said the tether was within weather design minimums when the blimp became detached.
The JLENS system uses two aerostats, or tethered blimps that carry radar equipment — one is used for fire control radar and one for wide-area surveillance radar, NORAD said. The blimps are supposed to fly at up to 10,000 feet.