A huge helium balloon providing communications for federal drug enforcement broke loose from its moorings and was destroyed, officials said Wednesday.
High winds may have prompted a cable on the tethered "aerostat," one of three such balloons along the Texas-Mexico border, to break late Tuesday, said an Air Force spokesman."It is down and destroyed," said John Smith at Langley Air Force Base near Hampton, Va. "We have sent an Air Force officer to the scene and are trying to get more information."
The Air Force manages and operates the fleet of six aerostats - the three in Texas plus two in Arizona and one in New Mexico. Each cost $12 million.
They form a 2,000-mile-long "radar fence" capable of tracking aircraft along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.
The white, 233-foot-long, fish-shaped balloons are tethered to their ground stations with cables made of a plastic material up to five times stronger than steel, according to the U.S. Customs Service.
The cable contains electrical lines to power the radar equipment inside the aerostats and lines that transmit data to the ground.