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IPFS News Link • Military

Hobbyist balloon detected over Western U.S. has left American airspace, officials say

• By Eleanor Watson, Kris Van Cleave, Caitlin Yilek

CBS News first reported that the military was tracking the balloon as it traversed the Western U.S. on Friday. NORAD, the military command responsible for air defense over the U.S. and Canada, later confirmed it had detected the object and said it was floating between 43,000 and 45,000 feet. Its presence prompted enough concern that the command sent aircraft to investigate. 

One U.S. official told CBS News the balloon was expected to be over Georgia by Friday night. The official said the balloon appeared to be made of Mylar and had a small cube-shaped box, about two feet long on each side, hanging below it. 

"The balloon was intercepted by NORAD fighters over Utah, who determined it was not maneuverable and did not present a threat to national security. NORAD will continue to track and monitor the balloon," NORAD said in a statement. "The FAA also determined the balloon posed no hazard to flight safety."

On Saturday, an official with the Department of Defense told CBS News that the object was actually a hobbyist balloon. 

NORAD said on Saturday afternoon that the balloon was monitored in coordination with the FAA until it left U.S. airspace overnight. 

The developments come one year after tensions between the U.S. and China ratcheted to new heights after a Chinese balloon carrying sophisticated spying equipment flew over the continental U.S. for several days. 

The Chinese foreign ministry claimed that the balloon was meant to collect weather data and had "deviated far from its planned course" due to high winds. The U.S. military ultimately shot it down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, 2023, and recovered the wreckage.

The spy balloon became a political headache for President Biden, who faced criticism from Republicans over his decision to allow it to transit over the U.S. for nearly a week before ordering it shot down. Biden officials said they waited until it was off the coast to minimize the risk to civilians on the ground. But lawmakers questioned why it couldn't have been brought down when it was near Alaska's coast, before crossing the U.S.


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