BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s been nearly 2 years since an experimental military blimp broke free in Maryland, before crashing down in Pennsylvania. WJZ is learning the U.S. Army is refusing to pay more than a million dollars in damages caused by the balloon during that unexpected voyage.
The army is formally denying 35 property damage claims, saying, in short, that the blimp becoming untethered wasn’t their fault. The damages from the blimp’s escape totaling to a little more than $1.5 million.
In short, the army’s says it wasn’t their fault. Even those who saw it still had a hard time believing it.
“It was like like the white blimp of death,” says one witness.
In October 2015, an unmanned surveillance balloon broke free from Aberdeen Proving Ground, drifting all the way to Pennslyvania, with a broken cable tether causing serious damage along the way.
The incident turned into a laughing stock on social media. But the reality for many was no joking matter.
“We’ve got a situation going on. We’re starting to get reports of traffic lights out. We’ve got a situation with a large balloon coming down and taking wires,” says officials over radio communications.
“It’s ripped the plastic in a couple of areas, but it ripped the pipe out the front. Destroyed benches,” says an area business owner.
On Friday, the U.S. Army formally denied claims for damage they say totals more than 1.5 million.
Army Spokesman Dov Schwartz said in a statement Friday “no government employees agencies or entity were responsible or negligent”
In that same statement, the army says it was the blimp’s contractor, Raytheon that was responsible for the installation and maintenance of the blimp.
“After a thorough investigation, 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 at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD. Because of this, the Army formally denied 35 property damage claims. The investigation further determined that an independent contractor- Raytheon Company – was responsible for the installation and maintenance of the JLENS aerostat tethering system. Any claimant dissatisfied with the denial of their claim may still file suit against the Army in an appropriate United States District Court no later than six months from the date that the denial letters were mailed. They may also file suit against Raytheon in accordance with applicable state law.”
Those that remember the rogue blimp tell WJZ they are shocked and somewhat confused by the army’s actions.
“It seems like chump change you know, compared to the investment that government has made,” says one local.
“If it was my property. I’d be held liable for it,” says another man.
WJZ did reach out to Raytheon, but have no heard back. A Pennsylvania power company also tells WJZ they are also still trying to collect on the cost of the repairs to their system.
Investigators say a sensor, which should have alerted controllers to bring the blimp down before it broke away, malfunctioned because batteries were not installed.