It fell out of the sky, but the Federal Aviation Administration doesn't know what it is. Neither does the U.S. Weather Service, nor the Howard County police.
All Elkridge resident Charles Irby knows is that a white parachute attached to a mysterious box was still hanging in a walnut tree in his front yard yesterday.
"I think it was an intelligence-gathering device," Mr. Irby said of the battered box, which has duct tape, serial numbers and what looks like the words "Lo-cate Microsonde" printed on it.
Two gray wires also are sticking out of the box, which is about the size of a 5-gallon bucket.
Mr. Irby said he was taking his "morning constitutional" Wednesday when he spotted the parachute and box in the uppermost branches of the 80-foot tree.
"I thought it was chemicals at first," said Mr. Irby, who was concerned that the box's contents would fall to the ground and contaminate the spring he and his wife, Margery, use for drinking water.
But after taking a closer look through binoculars, Mr. Irby decided the box contained no chemicals and called the FAA. He said he thought the agency might want to investigate.
FAA officials declined.
"Since it doesn't sound like a piece of an airplane, it's out of our jurisdiction," said Ray Stinchcomb, aviation safety inspector at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. He also said the agency has no way of getting the parachute out of the tree.
The Weather Service, which uses balloons to loft meteorological instruments, also denies responsibility.
"Perhaps somebody private released it," said forecaster Ken Shaver, who said weather balloons usually are orange with wooden hoops around them.
A Howard County police officer investigated, but he had no clue to the box's origin, Mrs. Irby said.
Frustrated by his inability to get the device out of the tree, Mr. Irby finally loaded his shotgun with birdshot and took aim.
"I took a shotgun and made that thing jump," he said.
But the box is still there, temptingly out of reach.
Mr. Irby said he may call the fire department or get a friend to cast a fishing pole into the tree's branches and snag the parachute.
Once he gets the box down, he said he knows exactly what to do with it.
"I'll take it apart."