Air traffic on high alert after blimp breaks loose
A blimp that broke its moorings at the National Ploughing Championships in Athy, Co Kildare, triggered an official air-safety alert over Dublin's airspace yesterday.
Air traffic controllers and flight captains were warned to be on the lookout for the unusual flying object that was last seen heading north near Monasterevin.
Two inspectors from the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) were dispatched to the annual agricultural show to find out how the blimp became unhinged.
The IAA posted a warning on its website advising that the blimp become airborne at approximately 11.30am.
"It is four metres by two metres in size (colour unknown) with JKC printed on the side. It is estimated that due to the prevailing winds it initially travelled in a northerly direction," the warning read.
An IAA spokesman said the runaway blimp had not yet caused any safety issues.
But it could cause havoc for low-flying planes and helicopters, he added.
"The alert went out because it could have the potential to cause damage," he told the Irish Independent.
"It could go to about 2,000 feet and just drift with the wind," he said. "But it will eventually burst or dissipate on its own," he added.
Met Eireann forecaster Gerry Scully predicted the blimp could have travelled as far as the North Atlantic or the Irish Sea by last night due to winds blowing it northwards at approximately 20 to 30mph or more.
If it did not disintegrate, it was probably hovering over Northern Ireland late yesterday afternoon and evening.
But the Galway businessman who owns the blimp is hoping it is still intact and within Irish airspace.
John Concannon, managing director of the well-known farm plastics company JFC, is offering a reward of a free chicken house worth almost €300 if the blimp is returned to him intact.
It was last seen flying over Monasterevin, Co Kildare, by a woman who was driving to the championships, who told her young son to head for the JFC balloon if he got lost at the fair. The little boy then pointed out the blimp flying low near the treeline.
The blimp was used to advertise the company and direct visitors to its stand, Mr Concannon said. It was valued at €3,500 and had only been up for an hour before it took off.
"There was a gust of wind and we heard a bang, and I don't know what happened but suddenly it was free of its chains and away," he said.
However, he said the blimp housed a safety device that should bring it back to earth to prevent it from endangering air traffic.
"The fact that it was low down near trees when it was spotted suggests it was running out of steam so if anyone finds it, we'd appreciate getting it back," he said.
National Ploughing Association spokesperson Anna Marie McHugh said the incident led the association to take down its own landmark blimp.