Multiple incidents involving unidentified objects shot down in U.S. and Canadian airspace, the possible detection of an object over Montana, and the additional downing of an object over Lake Huron on Sunday, are now believed to have involved balloons carrying small payloads, according to statements from officials early on Sunday.
The incidents follow the downing of a large high-altitude Chinese balloon over the U.S. East Coast last weekend. The Pentagon has not confirmed whether the objects shot down over Alaska and Canada in recent days are also suspected to be of Chinese origin.
Speaking with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday morning, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that “until a few months ago, we didn’t know of these balloons,” emphasizing the need for Congress to enrich its knowledge of what many are now characterizing as a previously unknown surveillance effort by China that extends back at least as far as the Trump administration.
Schumer said he learned that the objects were suspected to have been balloons during a briefing from President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
Following the announcement by White House and Pentagon officials on Friday that an unidentified flying object was shot down over Alaska’s northeastern coastal waters, similar events unfolded over northern Canada on Saturday afternoon, marking the second time in as many days that U.S. fighter jets have downed mysterious interlopers in North American airspace.
“I ordered the take down of an unidentified object that violated Canadian airspace,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement posted on Twitter.
According to the Prime Minister, the unidentified airborne object was downed over the Yukon Territory by an American F-22 fighter jet assigned to NORAD, the agency jointly operated by the U.S. and Canada to provide aerospace early warning and protection of the skies over North America.
“I spoke with President Biden this afternoon. Canadian Forces will now recover and analyze the wreckage of the object. Thank you to NORAD for keeping the watch over North America,” said Trudeau.
In a separate statement, the White House said that U.S. President Joe Biden and Trudeau had been in contact since the “unidentified, unmanned object” was first discovered by NORAD 24 hours prior to its downing.
“Out of an abundance of caution and at the recommendation of their militaries, President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau authorized it to be taken down,” said the White House. “The leaders discussed the importance of recovering the object in order to determine more details on its purpose or origin.”
In a statement, Canadian Minister of National Defence Anita Anand said that the high-altitude object over Yukon was flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet, and was downed at approximately 3:41 pm Eastern Standard Time on Saturday, marking the first such instance involving a NORAD shootdown in Canadian airspace.
Anand said the object “posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight,” but offered few additional details about its nature or appearance.
“We have no further details about the object at this time, including any description of its capabilities, purpose, or origin,” Anand said, though adding that it “appears to be a small, cylindrical object,” and smaller than the Chinese balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina last week.
On Sunday morning, a senior U.S. official who spoke with Fox News characterized the object shot down over Canada as a “small metallic balloon with a tethered payload,” the origins of which remain undetermined.
Anand said recovery operations supported by Canadian Armed Forces “will allow a further investigation into this object.”
Also on Saturday evening, airspace over Havre, Montana, was temporarily closed following the detection of a suspicious radar target, prompting NORAD to send fighter aircraft to investigate.
U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Montana, said that airspace over the region had been “closed due to an object that could interfere with commercial air traffic,” although no object was found at that time, and the incident has since been characterized as a “radar anomaly.”
Early on Sunday, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, R-Montana, told Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation that the U.S. military was still investigating the incident and that jets had returned due to difficulties searching under poor visibility resulting from darkness.
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte said on Twitter that he was briefed at the White House about the incident.
A week prior on February 4, a large Chinese surveillance balloon was similarly shot down by an F-22 fighter jet off the coast of South Carolina.
China admitted ownership of the high-altitude balloon. However, Beijing disputed U.S. accusations of espionage, claiming the device was a weather research balloon used for “mainly meteorological purposes”
Speaking to reporters about the February 4 shoot down, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the U.S. military had “located a significant amount of debris so far that will prove helpful to our further understanding of this balloon and its surveillance capabilities.”
In contrast with last week’s Chinese balloon incident, military officials have yet to indicate that they have determined the origin or purpose of the suspected balloon downed over the Alaskan coast on Friday.
Furthering the mystery, some reports have suggested that the object might have demonstrated unusual characteristics that include disruption of sensory capabilities on fighter aircraft.
What We Know About The Object Downed Near Alaska
Although officials speaking early on Sunday said that the objects shot down over Alaska and Canada are likely to have been balloons, recovery efforts to retrieve debris from both of the objects are still currently underway.
According to reports, the unidentified airborne object downed near Alaska wasn’t detected until it had already penetrated U.S. airspace “over Alaska not far from the northern coast” on Thursday, February 9.
U.S. F-35 fighter jets were sent to investigate the object, first on Thursday night and again on Friday morning. Citing unnamed U.S. military officials, CNN reported that the pilot’s investigation provided “limited” information about the object, with some reports claiming the object had “interfered with sensors” on fighter aircraft.
As of Sunday morning, a NOTAM issued by the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday restricting air traffic below 10,000 feet near the vicinity of Deadhorse, Alaska, remained in effect. The Pentagon still has not provided any indication that the object has been identified, due partly to conflicting eyewitness reports by military pilots, as well as recovery efforts hampered by inclement weather.
An update on recovery operations issued by North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command on Saturday said that recovery operations continue off the Alaskan coast, aided by Alaska National Guard and in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement.
“Arctic weather conditions, including wind chill, snow, and limited daylight, are a factor in this operation,” the update read, “and personnel will adjust recovery operations to maintain safety.
“Recovery activities are occurring on sea ice,” the statement added, though noting that there were no additional details available about the object shot down on Friday.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said he had learned of several similar incidents in recent days involving “things that were seen on radar but weren’t explained,” which drew military attention over his state.
Sullivan, who did not provide further details about the source of this information, said they possessed “similar signatures” to the object shot down near Deadhorse on Friday, according to the Alaska Beacon.
U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, said in a statement that she and other Alaskans are “expecting answers from our military leaders for how unidentified objects have been able to infiltrate our airspace in recent weeks.”
“We need to be aware of any other such objects over Alaska,” Peltola said. “The Defense Department must thoroughly investigate and close this gap in our domain awareness.”
“Continued violations of sovereign American airspace cannot be allowed.”
Coinciding with the shootdown of the unidentified object over Alaska on Friday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand at the Pentagon to address the modernization of North American Aerospace Defense Command and other military issues.
“We remain concerned by the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] increasingly assertive efforts to subvert the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure,” Austin said during the meeting, adding that U.S. coordination with Canada on the recent suspected espionage efforts by China “underscored the importance of our alliance and the need for continued investment in NORAD modernization on both sides.”
Early on Sunday, another unidentified flying object was reportedly spotted over northern waters close to China’s Bohai Sea, in an odd turn of events mirroring those that have occurred over U.S. and Canadian airspace in recent days.
Local authorities reportedly said they were prepared to shoot the object down.
“The Qingdao Marine Development Bureau sent a message to fishing boats that an unidentified flying object was detected in waters near Rizhao,” the South China Morning Post reported.
According to a similar report appearing in Shanghai’s The Paper, fishermen operating in the area were advised to be on alert for sightings of the object.
What We Know About The Object Downed Over Lake Huron
On Sunday, the FAA also issued a NOTAM over Lake Michigan, although it was not immediately clear if the temporary airspace restriction was related to another suspected balloon incident.
Military aircraft, including a KC-135 Stratotanker, were in operation near the vicinity shortly after the NOTAM was issued. The NOTAM was subsequently removed shortly after it appeared online.
According to an official NORAD statement, restrictions were put into effect over Lake Michigan at approximately 12 p.m. EST on February 12, 2023 “to ensure the air traffic safety in the area during NORAD operations. This restriction has been lifted.”
A little over an hour later, a second NOTAM was issued in the Lake Huron and Michigan areas near the Canadian border due to an “air defence operation.” According to flight tracking data, multiple military aircraft entered the area, including a PC-12NG ISR aircraft and KC-135 tanker.
At 3:15 pm EST, Congresswoman Elisa Slotkin tweeted that she had been contacted by the Department of Defense, and that the “military has an extremely close eye on the object above Lake Huron.” A little over ten minutes later, Congressman Jack Bergman confirmed that the US Air Force “decommissioned” an object in the area, making this the third aerial object shot down in North American airspace in the last two days.
According to sources speaking to the Wall Street Journal, the object was shaped like an octagon, operating at 20,000 feet, and posed a risk to flight safety. The object was shot down by an F-16 fighter.
Speaking with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, Chuck Schumer said the fact that the recent incidents over the U.S. and Canada had gone unnoticed for so long had surprised U.S. officials.
“It is wild that we didn’t know,” Schumer told Stephanopoulos.
“Now they are learning a lot more,” he added.
This article was updated at 4:52 pm EST, Sunday, February 12th.