Another Blimp Bites the Dust

MARFA – If you have ever taken the drive between Marfa and Valentine, chances are you have noticed a robust white blimp tethered to the ground or floating in the air. For now, it is absent.

Since early June, the surveillance blimp in Marfa/Valentine has not been operational due to a gust of wind that broke the balloon’s safety restraints and caused it to rotate into nearby maintenance trucks, said CPB Public Affairs Officer, Doug Moiser. The contact made with the trucks punctured and ripped the balloon nearly in half, causing a rapid and catastrophic deflation. No injuries were reported and the incident is under investigation. It is unclear whether any of its surveillance equipment had been damaged.

The blimp, known as The Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS, is one of six devices operated by Customs and Border Protection to monitor low-flying aircraft activity suspect of smuggling narcotics, along the Southwest Border, three are located in Texas, two are in Arizona, and one is in New Mexico.

This is not the first time the blimp has been damaged. In fact, this is at least the fourth accident. On Oct. 4, 1995, it broke free from its mooring, on April 19, 1998, the hull ruptured, and on Feb. 14, 2012, the blimp crashed to the ground, with estimated losses and damages of $8,819,488.

“The cause of the mishap was the delayed decision to recover the MA [TARS]. I have also determined that a preponderance of the evidence shows that the flight directors lack significant training on weather data interpretation and weather equipment use. Additionally I find that a surface wind warning was misperceived as a cancellation. I find that the lack of training and the erroneous cancellation substantially contributed to the mishap,” according to an investigation report on the 2012 accident.  

It is unclear whether this recent incident had caused any damage to its radar equipment. According to CBP, The Marfa Aerostat will return to flight operations once weather conditions allow for safe installation.