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A surprise landing comes with a few other surprises

NY solar radiation project lands in radiation expert’s yard

BENNINGTON — A red parachute that landed harmlessly in a Bennington woman’s backyard may have come from nearly 200 miles away. But it was the parachute’s purpose that hit most close to home.

Janice McKenzie was out walking her dog on her property on the morning of Oct. 24 when she saw a red parachute out on the flat, meadow area of her property.

“I could tell this was someone’s science project,” McKenzie said in an interview Wednesday. She said she was hesitant at first to open the attached rectangular box covered in duck tape, especially with a camera lens peeping through the Styrofoam box.

McKenzie then called a friend of hers, recently retired ConVal science teacher Molly Eppig, who suggested McKenzie open it.

“I didn’t know if opening it would ruin anything,” McKenzie said.

But after her friend’s suggestion to go ahead and open it, McKenzie looked inside and saw lots of circuitry, a GPS monitor and a couple cell phones. She began charging one of the cell phones, an iPhone 4, with her own cell phone charger.

In the meantime McKenzie contacted ConVal High School to ask whether the balloon was a science project, however, a secretary confirmed that there were no science classes this semester with projects involving weather balloons. The secretary did mention a Keene Sentinel article that told about a weather balloon found in Stoddard that two high school students from Plattsburgh, N.Y., believed to be theirs. McKenzie discovered that the contact number mentioned in the article matched one of the numbers she found listed in the iPhone. The number was for the Plattsburgh High School, and after making a call to the principal, the boys called her back.

After speaking with the two high school teenagers, Jake Messner and Javier Yu, they told McKenzie they were researching radiation in the atmosphere and also gathering weather information. The ironic thing about this project landing in her backyard is that McKenzie’s husband, David, is a retired astrophysicist who spent 35 years studying the ozone layer and sun radiation.

“This landed in our yard!” McKenzie said, laughing. “They found someone who’s an expert.”

McKenzie and her husband had just recently cleared that meadow area a month ago. Out of all the wooded areas around her property, McKenzie said she couldn’t believe the balloon landed in the one area free of any debris or brush.

McKenzie said that the boys were offering a $100 reward to whoever found the equipment, and that they’d pay for shipping. McKenzie, however, said she would just mail the equipment back and would not accept the money.

“This is a good thing! We’re glad we found it,” McKenzie said. “It was a fun thing for me because I just felt, we’re going to find where this came from.”

Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, or larceci@ledgertranscript.com.

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