A $2.7 billion military aerostat broke loose from its moorings at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and drifted into Pennsylvania, triggering the scrambling of F-16 fighter jets and causing widespread power outages before it was secured.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said such accidents can happen and cited similar incidents with the surveillance blimps used to protect bases in Afghanistan.
"My understanding is we can get it to descend and then we'll recover it and put it back up," he said in brief remarks on Wednesday after a meeting with the Israeli Defense Minister. "These things happen in bad weather."
The helium-filled craft dragged a tether measuring more than a mile long -- 6,700 feet -- that knocked down power lines and caused outages for some 20,000 residents in the Bloomsburg area, CNN reported.
The 242-foot-long aerostat is made by Raytheon Co. and packed with sensors and other electronic equipment designed to detect enemy missiles and planes. It's one of two that were in place and flying at about 10,000 feet over the military's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland north of Baltimore to provide surveillance of the greater Washington, D.C.
Aberdeen put out a warning after the blimp broke loose shortly before noon. "Anyone who sees the aerostat is advised to contact 911 immediately; people are warned to keep a safe distance from the airship and tether as contact with them may present significant danger," it stated.
The aerostat, known officially as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, was part of North American Aerospace Defense Command's East Coast surveillance system. Two F-16s from the New Jersey National Guard were scrambled to track the runaway craft.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said state officials were "closely monitoring" the situation. A statement said Wolf's office was "in communication with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania State Police, the National Guard, and the appropriate authorities with the federal government."
The blimp reportedly has a remote deflation system that could help bring it down, though it wasn’t immediately clear it the technology was functioning.
NORAD later confirmed the aerostat was grounded. "JLENS is on the ground and located in the vicinity of Moreland Township, Penn.," the command tweeted. "The area is secured and a military recovery team is enroute."
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.