WASHINGTON (AP) — An “unidentified object” was shot down with a missile by U.S. fighter jets Sunday over Lake Huron, and it was believed to be the same one tracked over Montana and monitored by the government beginning the night before, U.S. officials said.
The downing comes after earlier objects in Alaska and Canada were shot out of the sky because they were flying at altitudes that posed a threat to commercial aircraft, according to the officials, who had knowledge of the downings and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operations.
U.S. and Canadian authorities had restricted some airspace over the lake earlier Sunday as planes were scrambled to intercept and try to identify the object.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., tweeted that “the object has been downed by pilots from the U.S. Air Force and National Guard.” The shootdown was confirmed by four U.S. officials.
The news comes as U.S. officials were still trying to precisely identify the other two objects blown from the sky by F-22 fighter jets over the past two days, and were working to determine whether China was responsible as concerns escalate about what Washington says is Beijing’s large-scale aerial surveillance program.
The object shot down Saturday over the Yukon was described by U.S. officials as a balloon significantly smaller than the three school bus-size balloon hit by a missile Feb. 4 while drifting off the South Carolina coast after traversing the country. A flying object brought down over the remote northern coast of Alaska on Friday was more cylindrical and described as a type of airship.
Both were believed to have a payload, either attached or suspended from them, according to the officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation. Officials were not able to say who launched the objects and were seeking to figure out their origin.
U.S. officials said the two more recent objects were much smaller in size, different in appearance and flew at lower altitudes than the suspected Chinese spy balloon that fell into the Atlantic Ocean after the U.S. missile strike. They said the Alaska and Canada objects were not consistent with the fleet of Chinese aerial surveillance balloons that targeted more than 40 countries, stretching back at least into the Trump administration.
That large white orb first appeared over the U.S. in late January, and since then Americans have been fixated on the sky above them. U.S. authorities made clear that they constantly monitor for unknown radar blips, and it is not unusual to shut down airspace as a precaution to evaluate them, but they’d also take action when necessary.
On Sunday, the U.S. briefly closed the airspace over Lake Michigan but reopened it roughly an hour later.