The mind-boggling drama of aerial objects recently spotted in North American airspace continues to unfold, as the US recovers the first Chinese balloon it shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday February 4. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has also launched efforts to recover and study the other three objects recently shot down over the US and Canada.
“Crews have been able to recover significant debris from the site, including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure”, the US Northern Command reportedly said in a statement regarding the first object shot down near South Carolina.
The high-altitude balloon was substantial in size when inflated, measuring "200 feet [60 meters] tall with a jetliner size payload," Assistant Secretary of Defense Melissa Dalton told senators during a hearing last week.
Senior State Department officials noted that the debris featured "multiple antennas" that were "likely capable of collecting and geo-locating communications."
The US maintains that this first object to be shot down was a “spy balloon belonging to the People’s Republic of China.” They have suggested that the object did not pose a physical threat to the US, but was likely “for intelligence collection that’s connected to the People’s Liberation Army.”
They have since stated they believe Chinese spy balloons are most likely circulating in airspace globally. Beijing denies this, arguing that the ballon was simply a weather-tracking instrument that was blown off course.
After the first balloon was downed on February 4, three more aerial objects have been shot down after entering North American airspace. A flying object described as a type of airship was brought down over the remote northern coast of Alaska on February 10, while a smaller balloon was shot down over Canada’s Yukon on February 11, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed.
On Sunday February 12, a fourth aerial object was shot down by an air-to-air missile launched by F-16 fighter jets over Michigan’s Lake Huron.
While the first spy balloon is now in the hands of US authorities, it sounds like they’re having trouble locating the other three.
“The objects in Alaska and Canada are in pretty remote terrain – ice, wilderness, all of that – making it difficult to find them in winter weather. And the object over Lake Huron now lies in what is probably very deep water,” John Kirby, a retired rear admiral in the United States Navy serving as Coordinator for Strategic Communications, told a press conference on February 13.
Earlier on Monday, there was wild speculation after US authorities rejected to rule out that the fourth object over Lake Huron was an alien. Speaking at a press conference, General Glen VanHerck, head of NORAD and US Northern Command, was asked whether there was any chance the aircraft was an extraterrestrial. He replied: “I haven’t ruled out anything at this point,” according to the Associated Press.
The White House has since said there's no indication the recent takedowns involved aliens.
Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre laughed off the suggestion at the press conference on February 13, saying: "I know there have been questions and concerns about this, but there is no – again, no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity – [laughter] – with these recent takedowns. Again, there is no indication of aliens or [extra]terrestrial activity with these recent takedowns."