Remnants of a balloon draped across power lines gave Walt Napier good reason to start his workday at home last Thursday.
“As I drove down the driveway, I saw material on the line attached to a long cord and a piece of orange plastic on the ground," said Napier, dispatch supervisor at Peace River Electric Cooperative in Wauchula, Florida.
“The plastic was a parachute, and a small box was hanging from the cord about 15 feet above ground."
Over the years, he's dispatched PRECO crews to remove all sorts of items from utility lines, but this one seemed different.
“I could see that this was the kind of thing that might get the attention of kids, and because of the power lines, I knew we had to get it down," said Napier. “I called the office, and a note attached to the parachute said, 'Contact law enforcement or the fire department,' so I had a dispatcher call them, too."
Soon after co-op line technician Matt Chapman geared up and removed the debris, a sheriff's deputy arrived. They examined the package and determined it was a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather device.
Napier says the recent Chinese surveillance balloon story was on his mind when he first saw the debris. He was relieved to find out it belonged to the USA. NOAA launches 100 or more such balloons a day, with payload packages containing sensors that gather information for National Weather Service forecasts.
“At PRECO, we spend a lot of time in the schools and on social media talking about safety, and it's important that anyone who sees anything on utility lines contact us," said Napier. “This never caused an outage, but it did present a safety hazard. The colorful plastic and the mysterious box would have made anyone curious, so we could have prevented a real tragedy."