Military once claimed blimp tether nearly foolproof

PENNSYLVANIA -- It was death by firing squad on Thursday for an awol member of the Army -- that surveillance blimp that took a wild ride on Wednesday from Maryland to Pennsylvania. They couldn't shoot it down, so on Thursday, they shot it up.

The tail of the blimp came to rest in trees. It was removed on Thursday, along with top secret electronics, but the rest is in a ravine so deep that the Army said it could take a week to remove it.

Military blimp breaks loose, drifts across two states

"The biggest challenge is just the fact that it's very steep terrain down there. There's a stream that runs through site, and heavily wooded. That with the muddiness and rainfall, that's our biggest challenge," said Army spokesman, Captain Matt Villa.

It was one of two blimps based in Aberdeen, Maryland, where the Army was testing a $2.6 billion coastal defense radar system. The other blimp has now been grounded indefinitely.

In February, shortly after the first blimp went up, CBS News visited Aberdeen.

CBS News asked Captain Villa then about the tether, which is only about an inch thick.

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Army Captain Matt Villa. CBS News

"We really don't worry about that tether. There's a one in a million chance of that tether breaking," he said.

CBS News asked him again on Thursday if he wanted to revise that statement, and if he regretted making it.

"No. I mean that really is what the published chance was. And when you say one in a million, there is one," he said.

The Army has long argued the blimps present no danger to the public. But the heavy tether dragged along the ground for miles taking out power lines and damaging the greenhouse business where Megan Church works.

"It ripped the plastic in a couple area, ripped the pipe, destroyed benches," she said. "Thank God no one was hurt."

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Ken Hunter's grandkids live just down the street from where the blimp landed.

"What if it comes down on their house? That could have been serious," he said. "How does something like that get away? I would like some answers."

So far though the Army said it's still investigating how the blimp got away. And as for getting it out of the deep ravine in the woods, the Army said it might have to use a heavy-lift helicopter.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.