MUNCY, Pa. (WHTM) – A military recovery team has started the job of removing a runaway surveillance blimp from the rugged, wooded area where it came down Wednesday after drifting across central Pennsylvania.
U.S. Army Captain Matthew Villa told reporters the unmanned blimp, or aerostat, came down in two pieces. The tail section snagged on trees and the 10,000-pound main hull landed in a heavily wooded, steep ravine about a quarter-mile away.
News media is not permitted near the sites, but reporters were provided with military video.
Villa said the recovery team planned to remove the tail section Thursday afternoon.
Removing the main hull will take longer, but it should be out of the woods this weekend. Villa said the helium-filled nose had to be deflated, so state police used shotguns to fire about 100 shells into it this morning.
There’s still a question of how it will be removed. A helicopter crew has examined the area, but authorities weren’t sure whether the hull can be lifted out.
Authorities continue to investigate why the aerostat broke free from its mooring at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland before drifting north over Lancaster, Berks, and Schuylkill counties.
Initially, the 243-foot long blimp climbed to about 16,000 feet, but it began to deflate and descend over Columbia and Montour counties. The attached mooring cable, said to be about 6,700 feet long, pulled down power lines and cut electricity to about 30,000 homes and businesses.
No injuries were reported.
Authorities said the blimp had an auto-deflation device, but it’s still not clear whether it was working.
The aerostat was part of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Netted Sensor System (JLENS). It was equipped with a radar system designed to track possible air, land and sea threats.