Late Recovery Attempt Doomed Tethered Aerostat

The delayed recovery of an Air Force-operated tethered aerostat radar system caused the aerostat to break away and crash during high winds on Feb. 14 in Marfa, Tex., announced Air Combat Command. The investigation determined that the mishap’s cause was the aerostat flight director’s “late decision to recover the aerostat despite receiving a six-hour weather forecast predicting high wind gusts,” states ACC’s May 30 release, citing the newly released findings of the command’s accident investigation board. Turbulence and winds on the aerostat during the rapid retrieval efforts caused a 40-degree left roll and a 60-degree nose-low pitch-over, according to the release. This, coupled with the severe cable tension, caused the aerostat to nosedive and impact private property approximately 100 yards northeast of the TARS site, it states. The total loss was estimated at $8.8 million. There were no injuries or significant damage to government or private property, said ACC officials. (AIB report; caution, large-sized file.)