Three Meru farmers are threatening to sue Google and the Kenyan government after their crops were damaged by onlookers trying to get a closer look at one of the internet giant’s high-altitude balloons which had crash landed.
Speaking to Citizen Digital, Joseph Kobia Nguthari from Kalamene village in Igembe central sub county said that after the Project Loon balloon crashed, locals who thronged to his farm out of curiosity to see the ‘satellite’ looted and damaged his property.
One local from Kalamene village told the broadcaster that following the crash, some feared that it was the end of the world while others thought the incident could be an alien invasion.
Another farmer, Kiberia Lawama, said as many as 7,000 local people trampled over his fields of maize to get a closer look at the device.
Mr Lawama said: “When that device crashed, it was brightly shining, so many people came to see. Close to 7,000 people stepped on my crops — maize, beans and some even picked khat which was ready for sale. There was a lot of damage that the Kenyan government, the company owning the device and its country of origin must look into and compensate appropriately.”
Google uses a network of balloons for Project Loon, which is designed to bolster internet connectivity in rural areas as well as provide emergency internet access in disaster zones where local connections have gone down.
The balloons are designed to float at an altitude of almost 12 miles above the Earth, for up to six months at a time, helping to give millions of people in the world’s most remote regions access to the internet. When they reach the end of their operational life, they are brought down in a “controlled descent”.
As well as panels to harness solar energy, the helium-filled balloons carry with them an air-pump system, circuit boards, radio antennae and communications equipment.
Ten balloons were sent up over Kenya last year and in areas they have been launched, the public response has mostly been positive. However one balloon terrified residents of the Amazon and another was mistaken for a UFO in Colombia.