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Canada Research Balloon Floats Away

August 30, 1998 GMT

OTTAWA (AP) _ A runaway weather balloon floating toward Britain over the North Atlantic is proving a tough target for some of Canada’s top guns.

The helium-filled balloon, a 25-story high unmanned research station used to measure ozone levels over Canada, was launched Monday from Vanscoy, Saskatchewan.

Instruments attached to the balloon were supposed to separate from it at the end of the test Monday, said Dale Sommerfeldt, vice president of Scientific Instrumentation Ltd. of Saskatoon, which coordinated the launch.

``The termination device failed and the backup system failed and that’s why the balloon is where it is right now,″ he said.

Jet fighters trying to bring the balloon down fired more than 1,000 rounds into it Thursday, but it remained aloft. The air force hopes the now-leaking balloon will eventually come down.

Meanwhile, Nav Canada, the country’s air traffic regulator, is rerouting air traffic around it.

``It’s at an altitude and an area where trans-Atlantic flights pass nearby,″ Nav Canada spokesman Conrad Bellehumeur said Friday. ``It won’t cause delays, it’s just a matter of having planes travel 120 miles farther north or farther south.″

Maj. Roland Lavoie, an air force spokesman stationed at 1st Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg, Manitoba, said the air force will monitor the balloon until it enters another country’s airspace.

The CF-18 fighters that caught up with the balloon over Newfoundland and failed to bring it down were equipped with air-to-air missiles, but Lavoie said the pilots refrained from using heavier firepower.

``Citizens would not have appreciated having a missile blowing over their heads,″ he said. ``Also, it might be overkill _ spending a couple of hundred thousand dollars on a missile to shoot down a balloon that’s drifting away.″