COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – The North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs helped the Federal Aviation Administration track a runaway military blimp that crashed in Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

Cellphone video showed the blimp flying over a school after it broke away from its tether in Maryland and drifted away.

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NORAD said there was no way to track the blimp from the ground once it went airborne so they scrambled F-16s from New Jersey to follow it. NORAD also worked with the FAA to clear the airspace. The F-16s were armed but they didn’t have to use their weapons to bring the blimp down.

Its purpose is to scan the skies for potential incoming threats, but the high-tech surveillance blimp somehow broke away from its ground tether just after noon and drifted away. The whole time the blimp was dragging a mile long tether line, snapping power lines as it headed north into Pennsylvania.

Army surveillance blimp (credit: DVID)

Army surveillance blimp (credit: DVID)

A local power company reported as many as 20,000 customers lost power. Pennsylvania State Police reported numerous 911 calls of a blimp sighting as it traveled into the central part of the state.

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“I saw this thing up in their air, and I actually couldn’t believe it when I looked up and it was the blimp,” witness Mandy Morgan said.

The radar-equipped blimps are used to detect missiles and aircrafts from Boston to North Carolina. It’s part of a $2 billion defense program which some critics call a waste of taxpayer money.

NORAD says that they did nothing to bring the blimp down, although an auto-deflate mechanism may be responsible.

There’s an investigation on to find out how it broke free.

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The blimp is two-thirds the length of a football field. A second blimp which works in tandem with the one that broke away has been grounded pending the investigation.