State police shoot down wayward military blimp

MUNCY, Pa. (AP) — State police used shotguns Thursday to deflate a wayward military surveillance blimp that broke loose in Maryland and floated for hours before coming down into trees in the Pennsylvania countryside.

Curious residents trickled into a staging area as the military began gathering up some 6,000 feet of tether, the blimp’s huge hull and a smaller tail piece, a process expected to take at least through Friday.

The white behemoth still had helium in its nose when it went down in a steep ravine on Wednesday afternoon, and the easiest way to drain the gas was to shoot it, U.S. Army Captain Matthew Villa said. State police troopers peppered the blimp 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, causing thousands of electrical outages as its dangling tether took out 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. The military is considering using helicopters to ferry the wreckage from the site, he said.

He said it was unknown how the blimp broke loose, and an investigation was underway.

Kay Houseknecht looked out her family room window Wednesday and saw the blimp in the woods behind her house, “flapping in the trees.” She said Thursday that she hopes the military figures out what went wrong.

“What a waste,” Houseknecht said.

Michael Negard, spokesman for the Army Combat Readiness Center, said a two-person accident-investigation team was heading to the site. He said the probe 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 on Wednesday as the blimp floated silently over the sparsely populated area.

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.

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,” he said. “And it’s probably a $10,000 vehicle if I’m lucky.”

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Associated Press writers Kristen de Groot in Philadelphia and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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