Sheriff gets answers about wayward balloon

Photo: Waupaca County Sheriff's Office
Photo: Waupaca County Sheriff's Office(WBAY)
Published: Feb. 15, 2018 at 4:15 PM CST
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There's relief and a little laughter in Waupaca County today after sheriff's deputies made an unusual discovery on a remote part of the Wolf River on Wednesday. The deputies stumbled across what they learned was a stratospheric platform on a test flight from South Dakota.

The two Waupaca County sheriff's deputies patrolling the Wolf River on snowmobiles came across the device south of Gill's Landing near Weyauwega.

"They're explaining to me it's a frame type system with what appear to be solar panels, and it looks like a computer on it, and at that point we knew nothing," said Sheriff Brad Hardel.

The sheriff said it took his deputies about 45 minutes to find any kind of identifying marks on the device, which they were able to connect back to Raven Aerostar, a company based in South Dakota.

Action 2 News was in the sheriff's office when a Raven Aerostar official called the sheriff to explain what had happened.

Kurt Sehnert is the senior business development manager for Raven. He told Sheriff Hardel, "This was a test flight for our balloon and some of the technology we're developing."

The sheriff learned the device was flying at an altitude of a little more than 60,000 feet. While the balloon usually flies between 15 and 20 miles an hour, the one that landed on the river was traveling in excess of 70, pushing it off course.

As Raven Aerostar brought it back to the ground, it came to rest on the ice of the river.

"In this flight it actually went a little bit farther than we expected," says Sehnert. He added, "We try and avoid water. Nobody likes flying in the winter, but that was one advantage of what time of year we were flying, the lake, the river was frozen."

The sheriff said his deputies helped the Raven Aerostar crew that was tracking the balloon collect it from the river. While the company was appreciative, the sheriff asked for a little heads up next time an operation like that is planned over his county.

Sehnert agreed, telling the sheriff, "I think we might try and start building up a database so we can proactively call out to the sheriff's department. I think that's a good idea."

"That would be perfect. We would actually like that," said Sheriff Hardel.