COPY-Coast Guard trains spotters for Gulf blimp duty

Associated Press - July 10, 2010 1:14 PM ET

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - The Coast Guard has begun training spotters to work aboard a Navy blimp that will add another airborne tool to the search for petroleum slicks and distressed wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Coast Guard's observers aboard the MZ-3A Airship, now based near Mobile, will help guide skimming vessels and wildlife rescuers responding to the massive oil spill.

The blimp has a gondola that can carry up to 10 people and cruises at 55 mph at lower altitudes. It can come to an almost complete stop if needed.

The craft is expected to be far more effective that the Coast Guard's HC-144 cargo airplane that often is used for Gulf flights because the planes fly much faster and at higher altitude, making it hard to pinpoint oil or see animals on the surface of the water.

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