Police used 100 shotgun shells to deflate wayward blimp

An unmanned Army surveillance blimp which broke loose from its ground tether in Maryland floats through the air about 1,000 feet about the ground while dragging a several thousand foot tether line just south of Millville, Pa., Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. (Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP)

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.

The military was in the process of gathering up some 6,000 feet of tether, and the blimp’s tail section could be removed Thursday afternoon, said U.S. Army Captain Matthew Villa. The much-larger hull, however, was still in the process of deflating and will be removed in “the next day or so,” he said Thursday afternoon.

Part of an unmanned Army surveillance blimp hangs off a group of trees along County Line Road near the Montour and Lycoming county line, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, after crash landing near Muncy, Pa. The blimp broke loose from its mooring in Maryland and floated over Pennsylvania for hours with two U.S. fighter jets on its tail, triggering blackouts across the countryside as it dragged its tether across power lines. (Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP)
Part of an unmanned Army surveillance blimp hangs off a group of trees along County Line Road near the Montour and Lycoming county line, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, after crash landing near Muncy, Pa. (Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP)

When the blimp went down in trees along a ravine, it still had helium in its nose that had to be drained. The “easiest way possible” to do so was to shoot it, Villa said, so state police troopers peppered the white behemoth with about 100 shots.

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.

Very sensitive electronics onboard have been removed, Villa said.

Villa said it was 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 questioned 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.

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