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Radio-Controlled Beer Blimp Escapes, Wafts Free Over Wilds of Ohio

October 8, 1993

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ A beer wholesaler got more advertising than it could have imagined from a small blimp it hadn’t even bought yet.

The unmanned, radio-controlled blimp went out of control Thursday, flying thousands of feet higher than it was ever meant to, and was last seen wafting over the wilds of central Ohio.

The tale of the balloon’s wild dash to freedom was told across the country - or at least around town.

″I could turn it left and right in the air but I could not propel it forward, reverse it or bring it down,″ said owner Mike Barbee, who chased the blimp by car for hours Thursday.

Its legend grew when it evaded an aggressive effort by a TV station helicopter to bring it down, broadcast live on the local news.

The 25-foot blimp, emblazoned with the Budweiser beer logo, was being tested for Columbus Distributing, the wholesaler thinking of buying it, said company executive Mark Bivenour.

Columbus Distributing offered a reward of T-shirts, a jogging suit and other goodies to whomever returned the limp blimp after its inevitable fall.

The 16-pound, helium-filled balloon could remain aloft until sometime today, Barbee said, predicting it would deflate gradually. It was not expected to pose any danger, officials said.

Barbee was testing the $4,000 blimp in Columbus when heat from the sun helped expand the gas and the balloon took off, reaching an altitude of 7,000 feet. It was meant to fly at about 400 feet.

A WCMH-TV helicopter gave chase. The station ran a live broadcast as the pilot flew over the balloon in hopes of forcing it down. The blimp spun out of control and its gondola broke loose, landing safely in a field.

Bivenour said today that the balloon was last seen at midafternoon Thursday near Adamsville, about 60 miles east of Columbus. It was back down to about 100 feet above the ground at that point, he said.

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