Blimpgate: Runaway naval blimp knocks out power lines in Central Pa.

Blimpgate: Runaway naval blimp knocks out power lines in Central Pa.
Rhame Eyer (left) and Susan Switzer (right)/Courtesy of Lebanon Daily News

A high-tech U.S. military blimp equipped with radar to help detect a missile attack on the U.S. capital has landed in Montour County, Pennsylvania, a county emergency management official said on Wednesday.

“It is down in Montour County,” said John Thomas, a spokesman for the Columbia County emergency management agency. “It’s pretty rural out through there.”

Thomas said there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the grounding, though he said the blimp’s wayward journey has left thousands of people without power.

“There were approximately 30,000 residents without power at the peak of outages and approximately 15,000 remain without power at latest update from PPL (Pittsburgh Power & Light),” the office of governor Tom Wolf said in statement. “The tether attached to the aircraft caused widespread power outages across Pennsylvania. PPL Electric reports that the damage appears most extensive in Columbia and Schuylkill counties.”

News of the blimp’s journey was first announced via Facebook.

“The aerostat moored at Edgewood broke free at around 11:54 a.m.; approximately 6,700 feet of tether are attached,” Aberdeen Proving Ground posted on its Facebook as the blimp headed for Pennsylvania.

The JLENS blimp was trailing its 10,000-foot cable, which CNN said was knocking out power lines in some areas as it drifted north from its home at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, a U.S. Army facility 40 miles northeast of Baltimore in Maryland.

“We are working closely with the FAA, we have been since the report of the first incident,” NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek told Reuters. “The FAA owns the airspace. We are working with them very closely to ensure the airspace safety.”

Two F-16 fighter jets were monitoring the surveillance system as it hovered at about 16,000 feet.

Kucharek told CNN the blimp was not designed to be released and it was not immediately clear how it became detached from its tether.

Kucharek told CNN that public safety was the primary concern as the blimp drifted and that recovering it was NORAD’s secondary concern. He said there was no need to shoot it down.

“I think we’re in a monitor situation at this point,” he said. “It’s deflating as we speak. It’s releasing some of its helium.”

Kucharek said the blimp is specifically meant to detect cruise missile attacks on the Washington, D.C., region and provides a 340-mileover-the-horizon view of incoming air traffic.

Reuters contibuted to this report