TUSTIN (CBSLA.com) — Falling debris from the roof of an Orange County World War II hangar punctured a $35 million government-contracted airship Monday.

The experimental zeppelin, a $35 million project being built by private Southern California contractor Worldwide Aero, was partially deflated and released helium gas into the hangar on the old Tustin Marine Corps base.

Fire crews said two employees escaped the structure without injury. Officials were initially concerned because helium can cause asphyxiation.

“It’s an inert gas, so there isn’t a concern for explosion or fire or anything like that. It’s not toxic in the environment,” said Battalion Chief Kelly Zimmerman of the O.C. Fire Authority. “It is an asphyxiant so we simply open it up, allow it to escape into the atmosphere and air it out.”

The airship — designed to carry cargo for the military and humanitarian missions — is about three times larger than the Goodyear zeppelin and took Worldwide Aero four years to build.

The Southern California Company reportedly has a contract with the Pentagon and NASA. Officials did not let reporters get too close to the hangar due to the sensitive nature of the project.

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said company representatives from Worldwide Aero contacted the federal government about reports of creaking sounds coming from the hangar over the past few days but did not receive a response.

“The big concern I have obviously as a county supervisor whose district this blimp hangar is in, is the future of this blimp hangar and whether or not in light of the fact that there’s a gaping hole now in this structure and we already knew about the fact that this was built during World War II, whether we can afford to take this blimp hangar into county property,” said Spitzer.

Company employees did not say how badly damaged the zeppelin is or who will pay for the damage.


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