updated 12:52 pm EDT, Sat June 21, 2014
Search and rescue dispatched to suspected plane crash, balloon located
A trial Google "Project Loon" Internet access balloon crashed off the coast of New Zealand yesterday. Locals, fearing a plane crash, called the country's emergency services who then vectored a helicopter to the site. The crashed test platform was discovered floating in the ocean. The crash echoes one in Washington state earlier this month, that knocked out power to some residents of Yakima.
Project Loon is a research and development project being developed by Google. High-altitude balloons are placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 20 miles to create an aerial wireless network with up to 3G speeds. The system aims to bring Internet access to remote and rural areas poorly served by existing methods, and to improve communication during natural disasters.
Users of the service connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna. The signal travels through the balloon network from balloon to balloon, then to a ground-based station connected to an Internet service provider, then onto the global Internet.
Google confirmed the crash, which was not unexpected. The search engine giant said in a statement that "since launching Project Loon in New Zealand last year, we've continued to do research flights to improve the technology." Google claims to fully cooperate with local law enforcement, and has personnel dedicated to the task of recovering downed equipment.