Loose military blimp lands in Pennsylvania

Loose military blimp lands in Pennsylvania
© USAGAPG

A 240-foot-long military surveillance blimp that broke loose from its mooring in Maryland has landed in Montour County, Pa., according to military officials.

The U.S. military sent two armed F-16 fighter jets to track the drifting blimp, which had a cable of several thousand feet attached to it as it drifted over Pennsylvania.  

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As the blimp descended, the cable snapped power lines and caused outages, according to local news reports.

One local electric utility company, PPL Electric Utilities, reported about 20,000 customers without power, according to The Associated Press.

At one point, the blimp reached a height of 16,000 feet over central Pennsylvania at 30 miles per hour, but it gradually lost altitude and speed.

"The aerostat has been deflating [by itself] and is deflating as we speak," said Navy Capt. Scott Miller, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

The loose blimp caused a social media sensation, with spectators snapping photos and posting them to social media sites. One Twitter user even created an account for the blimp.

The blimp untethered from its station at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland at around 12:20 p.m. The cause of the untethering is unknown, Miller said.

A tail portion of the blimp detached while the blimp was in the air and dropped to the ground about a quarter of a mile away from where the aerostat landed. There have been no reports of any "significant damage or casualties," Miller said.

A team from Aberdeen Proving Ground is on its way to the blimp to secure it, he added.

The blimp is part of a military surveillance system, called JLENS, which stands for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System.

The system, manufactured by Raytheon, consists of two aerostats that float 10,000 feet in the air and carry powerful radars that detect airborne threats.

The system is used in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide ground surveillance around U.S. bases.

The aerostat system, which was in testing at Aberdeen, is being grounded until the military conducts thorough inspections, Miller said.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in a brief exchange with reporters at the Pentagon that blimps have broken loose before in Afghanistan. "This happens in bad weather.

"My understanding is, from having seen these break loose in Afghanistan on a number of occasions, we could get it to descend and then we'll recover it and put it back up," he said shortly before the blimp landed.

NORAD said the blimp came down by itself, and there were no actions to shoot it down.

Two F-16s fighter jets were launched from the Atlantic City Air National Guard Base in New Jersey to track the aerostat, according to NORAD.

The military had notified the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and worked with local law enforcement and the Pennsylvania National Guard to secure the blimp.

This story was updated at 4:49 p.m.