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A Giant Inflatable Mystery Off East Hampton Beach

Wed, 07/03/2024 - 12:38

Cops, F.B.I. perplexed by 6-foot balloon off Main

The giant silver balloon that appeared off Main Beach Saturday was probably a party backdrop, according to the village’s acting chief of police, Jeff Erickson.
Beth Schumann

The six-foot inflated silver sphere that was spotted bobbing offshore at Main Beach on Saturday afternoon was neither a weather balloon nor, apparently, a spy balloon, but arriving as it did during President Biden’s heavily policed fund-raising swing through East Hampton that day, people can be forgiven for some wild speculation.

Jeff Erickson, the acting chief of police, said after speaking with someone at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Upton that the balloon “has nothing to do with NOAA or NASA. I think it was just a coincidence that Biden was in town. China was not looking out over the Biden event.” Two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited the sphere on Monday and left perplexed.

Reed Jones, a lifeguard on one of the Main Beach stands, first spotted the mysterious orb. Another guard pushed the balloon to shore using a Jet Ski.

“We launched the Jet Ski and followed it into the beach,” said Drew Smith, the village’s chief lifeguard and beach manager. “We used the lifeguard truck to remove it from the beach and the Police Department came to pick it up on Sunday. I don’t know too much of what it is or where it is from. It was a little thicker than a regular balloon. It was clear with a silver wrapping on the outside. No one has ever seen a balloon that size wash up. People were interested.”

“If you Google weather balloons, none of them are silver,” said Christopher Minardi, the deputy mayor and village board liaison to the beaches. “It could have been a science experiment. Who knows what it was, but it didn’t look dangerous or industrial. One of the most important things to understand: We will send the lifeguards out to clean floating garbage from the water. If it’s something they can get safely, we’ll send them out. It becomes a combination of training and keeping the water clean.”

The balloon had no obvious tags identifying a manufacturer, but Jack Bartelme, a lieutenant in the village Police Department, did some internet sleuthing, and found a company that sells “big shiny inflatable balls” as party backdrops. It sells one that is 78 inches in circumference, about six and a half feet, the size of the Main Beach ball. It sells for $499.

“It looks like a party backdrop,” said Mr. Erickson. “It has the same type of port. That’s what we here at the village Police Department, after doing some exhaustive research, feel that it is. How it got into the ocean, or where it came from, no one knows. It could have washed over from Connecticut. We don’t have anything back from the F.B.I., but I’m pretty confident that’s what it was. It’s a well-done nothing burger.”

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