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Giant Surveillance 'Blimp' That Untethered, Now Down, Under Control

U.S. Air Force Col. William Pitts stands in front of an unmanned aerostat that is part of a new U.S. military cruise-missile defense system during a media preview in Middle River, Md., in December 2014.
Patrick Semansky

Update at 4:10 p.m. ET. Blimp Is Down:

A runaway giant surveillance blimp that was tailed by F-16 fighter jets from Maryland to Pennsylvania is now down and under control, the North American Aerospace Defense Command said.

Nikki Krize, a reporter for WNEP-TV, tweeted a picture that showed part of the blimp tangled with some trees near Muncy, Pa.

NORAD said that the area of the crash had been secured and "a military recovery team is enroute."

Our original post continues:

A giant surveillance "blimp" that had been tethered to a mooring at an Army installation in Maryland is now loose and drifting over Pennsylvania.

In a statement, the North American Aeropsace Defense Command said the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS aerostat, had detached from its mooring a little after noon on Wednesday.

Two F-16 fighter jets from Atlantic City were dispatched to monitor the blimp, which is "holding at approximately 16,000 feet."

"NORAD officials are working closely with the FAA to ensure air traffic safety, as well as with our other interagency partners to address the safe recovery of the aerostat," the agency said in the statement.

The aerostat, as the airship is technically known because it is tethered, has been the subject of much talk in Maryland. As The Intercept reported back in December, the blimps were birthed from an 18-year-long, $2.8 billion Army project. They were deployed in the United States at the end of the year.

The Intercept reported:

"These lighter-than-air vehicles will hover at a height of 10,000 feet just off Interstate 95, about 45 miles northeast of Washington, D.C., and about 20 miles from Baltimore. That means they can watch what's happening from North Carolina to Boston, or an area the size of Texas.

"At one point, there were supposed to be nearly three dozen blimps. But after a series of operational failures and massive cost overruns, the program was dramatically scaled back to the two existing prototypes that the Army plans to keep flying continuously above the Aberdeen Proving Ground for three years, except for maintenance and foul weather."

According to Raytheon, the maker, the helium airship can fly for 30 days at a time and can "detect and track objects like missiles, and manned and unmanned aircraft from up to 340 miles away."

Update at 3:14 p.m. ET. Photos Of The Blimp:

On Twitter, journalists and eyewitnesses have posted pictures and videos of the blimp over Bloomsburg, Pa.:

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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