Blimp Disaster 2.0

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An Air Force Tethered Aerostat Radar System at Marfa, Texas.

It wasn’t so long ago we wrote of the Air Force losing an $8 million blimp due to bad weather and the private-contractor ground crew’s failure to anticipate and adjust to it in time to save the airship. That snafu happened in Puerto Rico last August.

Well it’s happened again. The latest blimp disaster – this thing is nearly 200 feet long, so think it’s fair to dub its loss a disaster – took place in February, in Marfa, Texas, hard by the Mexican border. It was the same kind of blimp, same kind of weather, same contractor (ITT), same mission: stop the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S.

Best bit in the just-released accident investigation?

The communications officer involved relayed the wrong weather information to the blimp operators. Instead of correctly relaying that the forecast for high winds had jumped from a mere “watch” to a more serious “warning,” he “misperceived” it as a “cancellation” of the high-wind alert.

Once caught by winds topping 60 miles an hour, the blimp pulled its control cable taut and nose-dived to the ground, destroying the $8.8 million airship. “The erroneous cancellation,” the inquiry concluded, “substantially contributed to the mishap.”

And you thought these folks were supposed to be stopping the drugs (never mind: tests came back negative).