US Air Force may have shot down hobby club’s balloon worth US$12 with US$439,000 missile

A man launching a science balloon in San Diego, California, on Feb 13, as part of a climate science experiment in collaboration with the US Department of Energy and other groups. PHOTO: REUTERS

The United States Air Force (USAF) launched a US$439,000 (S$587,000) missile to take down a flying object that might prove to be something quite unremarkable: a US$12 (S$16) hobby balloon.

A hobby group in the US, the Northern Illinois Balloon Brigade, was reported by The Guardian as saying that one of its pico balloons had gone “missing in action” over Alaska on Feb 11, when a USAF F-22 fighter jet coincidentally shot down an object flying in the vicinity of Canada’s Yukon territory.

A pico balloon is equipped with trackers typically used to measure temperature, humidity, pressure or wind currents.

Although the group did not link the two events, the balloon’s trajectory suggests a possible connection. The group’s website said balloon K9YO was last reported to have been flying at an altitude of 11,560m near Hagemeister Island in Alaska.

However, as “no part of the object shot down... has been recovered”, the group said it could not confirm definitively if it was indeed one of its balloons.

The unidentified flying object shot down over Yukon was the second one to be felled, with US President Joe Biden issuing orders to take down three of them on consecutive days, from Feb 10.

Defence Department officials had said the objects did not pose a military threat, but their flight paths and proximity to sensitive sites, as well as their altitudes, were potential hazards to civil aviation, causing concern.

They have since said that the objects were possibly commercial ones or used for climate research purposes.

The downing of the objects comes after the US in early February shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon that had flown into its airspace.

According to declassified intelligence by the State Department, the balloon was equipped with an antenna that could pinpoint the locations of communication devices, as well as intercept calls made on said devices.

The remnants of the balloon have since been recovered by US authorities.

Ever since the Chinese balloon was spotted, much of the world has been transfixed by similar sightings.

Some even claimed the objects sighted were extraterrestrial in origin, prompting White House officials to issue a statement on Monday saying there was no indication any of the objects shot down had been linked to aliens.

Meanwhile, efforts have been made to locate and identify what is left of the objects; however, these attempts have been hampered by the remoteness of the locations and frigid temperatures, said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

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