Kenyan farmer threatens suit on Google over balloon crash

Wednesday January 3 2018

The Google balloon that fell in a village in Igembe Central, Meru County. PHOTO | David Muchui | NMG

The Google balloon that fell in a village in Igembe Central, Meru County. PHOTO | DAVID MUCHUI | NMG 

By BUSINESS DAILY
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A Kenyan farmer is seeking compensation for destruction of crops after curious villagers flocked to his farm in central Meru County last week to view a crashed internet balloon.

Hundreds of locals swarmed to Mr Joseph Nguthari’s property in Nthambiro, Igembe Central on Friday to catch a glimpse of the high altitude device that is part of Google's Project Loon programme.

Mr Nguthari said the curious residents trampled on his maize, beans and green grams crops while some helped themselves to his miraa trees causing ‘massive’ damage.

“The device was emitting a lot of light and people came in droves from far to see it. Some came in vehicles and motorbikes and entered my farm without caution. About seven acres were trampled on. Google experts who collected the device did not care to assess the damage on my farm and those of neighbours,” Mr Nguthari said Wednesday.

He now says he wants an agricultural expert to assess the damage to his crops so that his lawyer can file a suit against the US-based tech giant.

“The damage was made worse after police officers shot in the air to disperse the crowd that was keen to see the device. People were running in all directions destroying my farm produce. My farmhand also left on that day,” he added.

The device was one of Google's 10 balloons deployed for testing in Nakuru, Nanyuki, Nyeri and Marsabit in July last year.

It was being navigated remotely to land in a less populated area but strong winds led it to Mr Nguthari’s farm.

Google X, in a statement sent on Saturday, however said the balloon’s descent wasn't a crash but a safe and coordinated landing.

“I can confirm this was a Project Loon balloon. Our hope with Project Loon is to beam Internet access to rural, remote, and underserved parts of the world. Following a routine research and testing flight, we coordinated with local air traffic control to manage this balloon’s safe and slow descent to an area in Meru,” the statement said.

“A trained recovery team is on their way to pick up the balloon and bring it back to our labs so that our engineers can learn more about its flight. We appreciate the hospitality and support of the local authorities and community.”

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