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Tail ripped off runaway balloon; additional APG blimp grounded

Investigators are looking into how a JLENS blimp got loose Wednesday in Edgewood.

The remaining blimp at Aberdeen Proving Ground is grounded indefinitely after one of the two football field-sized military surveillance aerostats detached from its mooring Wednesday and traveled hundreds of miles north.

NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek said a technical recovery team is on the ground in Pennsylvania to handle the retrieval of the runaway blimp, which deflated and landed in a wooded area Wednesday afternoon.

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Capt. Matt Villa, an Army planning officer who is on the scene, said the balloon's tail has come off and crews had to cut parts of its tether that had tangled in powerlines. About 60 military personnel are involved in the recovery effort, working alongside a team of contractors and local authorities, he said.

"We're focused on safety at this point," Villa said. "There is an investigation that is ongoing."

The balloon left behind in the Edgewood area of Aberdeen Proving Ground was taken down as soon as the military realized there was a problem, Kucharek said. The surveillance will remained grounded amid the investigation into the untethering of the first blimp, which occurred around noon Wednesday.

The two-balloon system, known as JLENS, was launched over Maryland in December as part of a three-year test. The balloons are supposed to stay anchored to the ground by 10,000-foot cables, but authorities said one of the pair came unhitched around noon and floated toward Pennsylvania.

The military scrambled a pair of F-16 fighter jets to track the unmanned balloon, which dragged 6,700 feet of cable that snapped power lines in Pennsylvania and cut electricity to thousands of customers. The balloon finally came to rest near tiny Moreland Township, Pa., after about four hours on the loose, authorities said.

Villa said the balloon that escaped was the second in the pair, which launched at Edgewood in August. The other balloon is based in Grace's Quarters.

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