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Army denies damage claims for runaway APG balloon

No payouts from the Army for people who said their property was damaged by the APG balloon escape.

The Army is declining pay people who said their properties were damaged after a surveillance balloon broke free of its moorings at Aberdeen Proving Ground in the fall of 2015 and flew across the Maryland and Pennsylvania countryside.

Spokesman Dov Schwartz said Friday that after investigating the incident, "the United States Army determined that no government employees, agencies or entities were responsible or negligent in a breakaway of a JLENS aerostat balloon from its tether."

"Because of this, the Army formally denied 35 property damage claims," Schwartz said.

The balloon system, known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, was designed to spot cruise missiles and other threats coming toward the U.S. coast. It was being tested at APG in October 2015 when one of the balloons broke free, dragging a heavy mooring cable behind it.

The balloon drifted north pursued by jet fighters before crashing in rural Pennsylvania.

Investigators determined an unusual cascade of small problems mounted until the balloon was wrenched from the ground by the wind. A system that was designed to deflate the balloon if it broke free did not have batteries installed.

Schwartz said that anyone dissatisfied with the denial of the damages claims could sue the Army in federal court or pursue a state lawsuit against Raytheon, the contractor responsible for the balloons.

A Raytheon representative could not be reached for comment.

The balloon system was grounded after the incident, and while Pentagon officials decided the test should continue, Congress cut the program's funding.

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