Canada’s prime minister says he is not sure what was shot down on Saturday, but it ‘represented a reasonable threat to the security of civilian flight’.
Canadian investigators are hunting for the wreckage of a mysterious flying object shot down by a US fighter jet over the northwestern Yukon territory.
“Recovery teams are on the ground, looking to find and analyse the object,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Sunday. He gave no hint as to what it was, but said it “represented a reasonable threat to the security of civilian flight”.
“The security of citizens is our top priority and that’s why I made the decision to have that unidentified object shot down,” he said.
North America has been on high alert for aerial intrusions following the appearance of a white Chinese airship over the skies earlier this month.
The 60-metre-high (200-foot) balloon – which Americans have accused Beijing of using to spy on the United States – caused an international incident, leading US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to call off a planned trip to China only hours before he was set to depart.
China denies the original balloon was used for surveillance, saying it was a civilian research craft, and condemned the US for shooting it down off the coast of South Carolina last Saturday.
— North American Aerospace Defense Command (@NORADCommand) February 12, 2023
With military and intelligence officials newly focused on airborne threats, at least two other flying objects were shot down over North America over the weekend.
Canadian searchers trying to piece together what was shot down over the Yukon may have their own challenges. The territory is a sparsely populated region in Canada’s far northwest, which borders Alaska. It can be brutally cold in the winter, but temperatures are unusually mild for this time of year, which could ease the recovery effort.
In Whitehorse, the Yukon’s capital, the forecast is for a high of minus 2° Celsius (28° Fahrenheit) on Sunday.
Twice in 24 hours, US officials closed airspace – only to reopen it swiftly. On Sunday, the Federal Aviation Administration briefly closed space above Lake Michigan. On Saturday, the US military scrambled fighter jets in Montana to investigate a radar anomaly there.
North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) later said the pilots did not identify anything corresponding to the radar hits.
‘What’s going on’
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told US broadcaster ABC that US officials think the flying objects – the first of which was brought down over the sea ice near on Friday, and the second of which was destroyed over the Yukon on Saturday – were both balloons.
“They believe they were [balloons], yes, but much smaller than the first one,” Schumer said.
The White House said only the recently downed objects “did not closely resemble” the Chinese balloon, echoing Schumer’s description of them as “much smaller”.
Schumer said he was confident US investigators scouring the ocean off South Carolina to recover debris and electronic gadgetry from the original balloon would get to the bottom of what it was being used for.
“We’re going to probably be able to piece together this whole, whole surveillance balloon and know exactly what’s going on,” he said.
Republican lawmaker Mike Turner, who serves on the US House Armed Services Committee, suggested President Joe Biden’s administration might be overcompensating for what he described as its previously lax monitoring of US airspace.
“They do appear somewhat trigger-happy,” Turner told CNN on Sunday. “I would prefer them to be trigger-happy than to be permissive.”