Canada hunts for wreckage of latest object shot down by U.S. fighters

OTTAWA/WASHINGTON, Feb 12 (Reuters) – Canadian investigators are searching for the wreckage of a balloon shot down by a US jet over Yukon Territory, the third unidentified flying object to be destroyed by American fighters.

“Rescue teams are on site trying to locate and analyze the object,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Sunday.

“Citizens’ safety is our top priority, and that’s why I made the decision to have this unidentified object shot down,” he said, adding that it posed a threat to civilian aircraft.

North America was on high alert for airstrikes after a white conspicuous Chinese airship appeared over American skies earlier this month.

The 60-meter balloon, which Americans have accused Beijing of spying on the United States, caused an international incident that prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a planned trip to China just hours before he was due to leave.

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Surveillance fears appear to be keeping US officials on high alert.

Twice within 24 hours, US officials closed the airspace – only to quickly reopen it. On Sunday, the Federal Aviation Administration briefly closed down space over Lake Michigan. On Saturday, the US military sent fighter jets into Montana to investigate a radar anomaly there.

China denies the first balloon was used for surveillance, saying it was a civilian research vessel. She condemned the United States for shooting her down off the coast of South Carolina last Saturday.

At least two other aircraft have since been destroyed over North America as military and intelligence officials refocused on aerial threats.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told ABC that US officials believe the two most recent objects were also balloons. The original balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on February 4th. A second was shot down Friday over sea ice near Deadhorse, Alaska. The third was destroyed over the Yukon on Saturday.

“They think they (balloons) were, yes, but a lot smaller than the first one,” Schumer said.

The White House said only that the recently launched objects were “not very similar” to the Chinese balloon, echoing Schumer’s description of them as “much smaller.”

Schumer said he was confident that US investigators, who were scouring the ocean off South Carolina to recover debris and electronic equipment from the original balloon, would get to the bottom of what it was used for.


Canadian colleagues trying to piece together what was shot down over the Yukon may have their own challenges. The Territory is a sparsely populated region in the extreme north-west of Canada, bordering Alaska. Winter can be brutally cold, but temperatures are unusually mild for this time of year, which could make recovery efforts easier.

Speaking to Fox News, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said the balloon that was launched over the South Carolina coast was on a mission to obtain images of sensitive American nuclear sites.

“They want pictures, information about our military capabilities, especially nuclear weapons,” McCaul said. “And they’re building quite a nuclear stockpile themselves.”

Republican lawmaker Mike Turner, who serves on the US Armed Services Committee, suggested the White House could overcompensate for what he described as its previously lax oversight of American airspace.

“You seem a bit trigger-happy,” Turner told CNN on Sunday. “I would prefer them to be trigger-happy than to be revealing.”

Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for its handling of the incursion of the suspected Chinese spy balloon, saying it should have been shot down much sooner.

Reporting by Katharine Jackson and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; writing by Raphael Satter; Editing by Ross Colvin, Andrea Ricci and Lisa Shumaker

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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