Runaway Military Blimp With Its Dangerously Dangling 6,700-Foot Tether Crash-Lands Near Pennsylvania Schoolyard

The military blimp that came loose from its mooring and was observed floating over Pennsylvania with its 6,700-foot tether still dangerously dangling from it crash-landed near a school. Though no injuries have been reported, the blimp caused damage to many power lines, leaving thousands without power in the region.

An unmanned military blimp meant for surveillance that broke loose from its mooring in Maryland came down near a school. Eyewitnesses indicated the blimp may have suffered extensive damage, with many claiming it came down in two pieces.

The blimp didn’t cause much panic, but many were amazed to see a huge 240-foot, helium-filled balloon slowly floating over Pennsylvania for a few hours. The blimp even had two fighter jets on its tail. Unfortunately, the blimp had its mooring cable still attached to it, which triggered blackouts across the countryside. The blimp eventually crash-landed near Muncy, a small town about 80 miles north of Harrisburg. Though the blimp landed near a school, it did not cause any injuries.

Students at Columbia-Montour Area Vocational-Technical School in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, tweeted that they saw the blimp go down near the school, reported the New York Post.

One of the tweets from the students read, “It knocked out the power. When we went outside it was going down on the other side of the building.”

The military blimp, one of only two, is estimated to cost approximately $1 billion. Officially named as Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS), the unmanned floating surveillance blimp was confirmed to be surveying the East Coast when it broke away from its mooring and then hovered at an altitude of 16,000 feet, reported the Baltimore Sun.

The blimp is essentially meant to be the eyes and ears in the air for the military. Officially, JLENS’s primary mission is to provide 360-degree, over-the-horizon radar coverage. Fitted with highly sensitive technology, the blimp is said to have high-resolution imaging systems along with radar. Along with its twin, the JLENS system can gather and transmit incredibly detailed telemetry on a target for possible engagement, reported Foxtrot Alpha. Each blimp is accompanied with a semi-mobile ground mooring station that is manned by a group of six people to process the information it gathers.

When one of the blimps broke loose, it dragged its 6,700-foot mooring cable, which is said to be very thick, as it is supposed to keep the blimp tethered. As the blimp floated away, the cable snared quite a few power lines. Before it crash-landed, the blimp had rendered about 20,000 residents of Baltimore, Pennsylvania, without power.

The blimp officially belongs to NORAD and had been moored at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, confirmed NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek, who added that the agency was working with local law enforcement agencies “to address the safe recovery of the aerostat.”

Since its launch in December of last year, the JLENS blimps have been regularly spotted by residents of Baltimore. Owing to their non-threatening shape and the fact that the blimps never left their spot in the sky, people casually ignored their presence until one of them got loose.

The military blimp is believed to have covered a distance of more than 150 miles within a span of three and a half hours. As the blimp rose higher in the air, aviation officials feared it may endanger air traffic. Hence, the National Guard in New Jersey scrambled two F-16 to track and trail the blimp. The jets were ordered to observe and not bring it down, confirmed Navy Capt. Scott Miller, a spokesman for the nation’s air defense command.

The blimp couldn’t be brought down because there was no way to steer it remotely. Fortunately, the military blimp was slowly losing helium, perhaps owing to the auto-deflate mechanism. Now that it has landed, officials have begun the recovery of the sensitive equipment on board the runaway blimp.

[Photo by Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images]

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