Human error blamed in aerostat crash
MARFA, VALENTINE – A flight director’s late decision to recover a radar blimp during high winds in the sky over Far West Texas caused the system to crash, resulting in almost $9 million in damage, according to an investigation report released May 29.
On February 14, the tethered aerostat radar system was floating between Marfa and Valentine, where it monitors low-flying aircraft suspected of smuggling illegal narcotics from Mexico. A six-hour weather forecast predicted high wind gusts in the area, but the flight director made a late decision to recover the aerostat and moor it to the ground.
Rapid retrieval efforts in wind and turbulence caused a 40-degree left roll and a 60-degree nose-low pitch-over, which — coupled with cable tension — caused the aerostat to nosedive and crash into private property, according to an Air Force statement on the report.
Additionally, the flight director’s lack of training on weather data interpretation and the use of equipment, along with an erroneous wind warning cancellation, contributed to the crash.
Total damage was estimated at $8.8 million. There were no injuries or significant property damage, and less than a gallon of fuel spilled, the statement said.
The helium-filled balloon, or aerostat system, is a stationary radar platform that can detect low-altitude aircraft. It is used along the U.S.-Mexico border in support of the Defense Department’s counterdrug program and provides data to U.S. Southern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s air sovereignty mission.
The Air Force Times, Brian Everstine, staff writer.
Story filed under: Top Stories