Storm-tossed Purdue weather balloon found in Ohio

Updated at: 11/27/2013 3:35 PM
By RICK CALLAHAN

(AP) INDIANAPOLIS - A team of Purdue University students who feared a camera-equipped weather balloon they’d launched was destroyed during the Midwest’s recent tornado outbreak has been reunited with its pricey scientific instruments, thanks to the diligence of an Ohio farmer.

The students had launched the high-altitude balloon the day before the Nov. 17 tornado outbreak, and feared it was gone forever as several days passed without any word of its fate.

But nearly a week later, farmer Joseph Recker contacted Purdue officials to let them know a parachute carrying the balloon’s instruments had crash-landed in one of his fields near the northwestern Ohio town of Kalida.

Recker, the uncle of former Indiana University basketball star Luke Recker, was harvesting soybeans Nov. 22 when his combine nearly ran over what he thought was a party balloon. He discovered it was a parachute tethered to the balloon’s instrument package.

"I was thinking, `Obviously this thing’s worth something, I better get it back to who owns it,’" Recker told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

But the severe storms had washed away contact information written on the balloon, leaving its origins a mystery until Recker removed a data card from the camera.

A computer-savvy person at a nearby fertilizer business accessed the card’s files, revealing an hours-long video of the balloon’s wild, high-altitude journey. The footage including images of Earth’s curved rim and menacing clouds far below pushing ahead of the tornado-bearing storms that struck the day after the balloon’s instruments parachuted down.

The first minutes of footage showed glimpses of the balloon’s student creators _ some of them wearing Purdue sweatshirts _ working to launch it. That prompted Recker to contact Purdue officials, who in turn alerted the balloon’s creators.

Dahlon Lyles, a senior in mechanical engineering technology from San Antonio, said the dozen technology and engineering students who launched the balloon were elated. He said the video camera, a radiation monitor, GPS unit and other devices on the balloon are worth about $1,200.

The balloon was launched Nov. 16 in West Lafayette, soaring to nearly 100,000 feet before its hydrogen-filled balloon burst as planned about three hours later and its instrument package parachuted to the ground. Because most high-altitude balloons are never recovered, the students assumed their costly instruments would never be found or had been destroyed by severe weather.

"With the tornadoes and the storms that blew through, we were sure it was probably destroyed. We were all pretty worried that we’d lost all that money," Lyles said.

He said the team is going to put together a thank-you letter for Recker and plan to send him some clothing with Purdue logos and other "Purdue swag."

The team’s adviser, Purdue technology professor Davin Huston, picked up the balloon’s instruments Monday from Recker.

Huston said the students have had great luck with the four balloons they’ve launched to date, managing to buck the odds and recover all four.

The students plan to relaunch their instruments on another balloon in January, Huston said, but for now they’re digesting the footage their balloon camera recorded during its recent journey _ images they’ve uploaded to YouTube.

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Online:

Purdue weather balloon video: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa40x3b-Ozx-MkMk_8oPUjA

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)