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.

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.

“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.

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.

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