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Rogue blimp causes chaos in rural US

A massive military airship has caused power outages and unknown amounts of damage after coming untethered. The JLENS zeppelin program has come under fire for its surveillance capability and its immense cost.

A huge JLENS surveillance blimp broke free from its moorings on Wednesday, wreaking havoc and causing power outages northeast of Washington.

After coming untethered from its station in Maryland, the zeppelin finally came down to earth nearly four hours later in Montour County, Pennsylvania.

Two F-16 fighter jets scrambled to pursue the blimp, dangerously dangling a 6,600-foot cable of thick, Kevlar-like material behind it. The National American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) also announced that part of the blimp's tail had fallen off, but could not confirm any injuries or damage.

"People are warned to keep a safe distance from the airship and tether as contact with them may present significant danger," said a statement from Aberdeen Proving Ground, the station where the aircraft is usually moored.

Billion dollar blimp

After nearly a decade in development, there are only two operational JLENS ("Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Netted Sensor System") blimps in existence. With radar so powerful they are capable of monitoring an area the size of Texas, critics have worried they could be used for domestic surveillance.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden couldn't resist making light of the snafu on Twitter.

Although the Pentagon has adamantly denied a domestic surveillance agenda, saying the zeppelin cannot see people and has no cameras aboard, the program has also come under fire for its incredible budget - a whopping $2.8 billion thus far.

A JLENS blimp is usually capable of staying aloft for a month straight, and beyond surveillance, can also intercept a cruise missile in mid-flight.

es/bw (AFP, dpa)

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