A Montana congressman said on Saturday night that he had been told an unidentified object was spotted over his district, forcing the temporary closure of airspace – and the search for it would resume at daylight.
Matt Rosendale, a Republican elected in 2020, said he had been briefed by the Department of Defense, while he was at a Lincoln Reagan dinner.
Fighter jets were scrambled and airspace above Havre, a town of 10,000 people, 30 miles south of the Canadian border, was shut at 7:50pm before being reopened about 50 minutes later.
‘I’m at an event, a Lincoln Reagan dinner in Columbus, Montana right now,’ Rosendale told Fox News.
‘And DOD called me as I have been sitting here and started giving me briefings to tell me what was going on.
‘I clarified with them that this is actually the fourth balloon, OK.’
Earlier on Saturday, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, confirmed an object had been shot down by U.S. F-22s in Yukon, as part of a joint Canadian-U.S. operation.
Rosendale continued: ‘The first we shot down over the Atlantic. One was shot down before it entered into Alaska’s airspace. A third was shot down, Trudeau ordered over Canada. So now we’re talking about a fourth incident.’
He said he was told the Pentagon would follow the object, but were unable to shoot it down because it was dark.
‘DOD told me that they are going to be tracking the object – they can’t even say exactly what it is – they are going to track the object until it gets light again,’ he said.
‘They don’t have the ability to put any more eyes on it with aircraft until it’s light again.
‘And then tomorrow morning we’ll be dealing with it.’
NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, issued a statement shortly after Rosendale’s interview which left it unclear whether there was indeed an object, or if it was a false alarm.
NORAD said a ‘radar anomaly’ was seen, but jets ‘did not identify any object to correlate to the radar hits.’
‘NORAD will continue to monitor the situation,’ they added:
Greg Gianforte, the governor of Montana, tweeted that he had been briefed at the White House.
‘I received a briefing tonight at the White House about an object in Montana airspace,’ he tweeted.
‘I will continue to receive regular updates.
‘With questions about the Chinese spy balloon still unanswered, the Biden administration must be fully forthcoming with Montanans and all Americans.’
Rosendale’s assertion that the object could not be shot down because it was dark was greeted with much mockery online.
One man joked: ‘NORCOM to pilots: “Well guys, we’re all getting pretty tired here and it’s close to quitting time. Let’s all just go home, get some shut-eye, and continue this at, let’s say, nine-ish.”‘
Another added: ‘We have flashlights maybe.’
‘What hours is our military open?’ another asked.
‘That Montana law that says no objects can be shot down after 5pm really needs to be changed,’ said another.
And another remarked: ‘Gee I hope no-one ever bombs us at nighttime.’
Trudeau announced earlier on Saturday that he had requested U.S. and Canadian forces scramble to intercept ‘an unidentified object that violated Canadian airspace’, and a U.S. F-22 shot it down at 3:41pm Eastern Standard Time.
Canada’s defense minister said it was a ‘a small cylindrical object’ that was not as big as the South Carolina spy balloon.
A NORAD spokesman, Maj. Olivier Gallant, said on Saturday evening the military had determined what it was but would not reveal details.
Two F-22s were dispatched from the U.S. from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska; and two F-18s from Cold Lake Air Base in Alberta, Canada.
Instructions were given that whoever had the first clear shot should shoot it down.
It was shot down with an AIM-9X missile at 3:41pm Eastern Standard Time, and was flying at about 40,000 feet. The missile is described by the manufacturer as ‘the most advanced infrared-tracking, short-range, air-to-air and surface-to-air missile in the world.’
The incident came a day after Joe Biden ordered another ‘unidentified object’ be shot down over Alaska, and a week after a spy balloon which crossed the U.S. was shot down off South Carolina.
The airport in the tiny village of Mayo, home to 200 people in remote Yukon wilderness, was closed while the operation was taking place.
A senior government source told CBC News that the object crossed into Canadian territory on Saturday morning.
Trudeau tweeted that Canadian teams were now working to recover the debris. The debris was being monitored from a CP-140.
‘I ordered the take down of an unidentified object that violated Canadian airspace,’ he tweeted on Saturday.
‘@NORADCommand shot down the object over the Yukon. Canadian and U.S. aircraft were scrambled, and a U.S. F-22 successfully fired at the object.
Trudeau said that he had been in contact with Biden about the intrusion.
He thanked NORAD – the North American Aerospace Defense Command, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado – for their work with his forces.
‘I spoke with President Biden this afternoon. Canadian Forces will now recover and analyze the wreckage of the object,’ Trudeau said.
‘Thank you to NORAD for keeping the watch over North America.’
The involvement of U.S. jets raised eyebrows among some Canadians, with questions asked as to why Canada itself wasn’t able to deal with the situation.
‘So it’s just confirmed that this ‘object’ over Canadian airspace was taken out by a U.S. F-22 jet,’ tweeted Michael Chong, the shadow foreign minister.
‘We do not have the capacity to defend ourselves and our sovereignty. Hard questions need to be asked about the state of the Canadian armed forces.’
Canada’s defense minister, Anita Anand, praised the joint operation.
She said that she had discussed the incident with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ‘and reaffirmed that we’ll always defend our sovereignty together.’
Anand, asked during a press conference on Saturday evening why a Canadian jet did not shoot it down, said this was ‘NORAD doing what it was supposed to do.’
She added: ‘We wanted to ensure we had enough assets in the air to ensure a successful mission.’
Asked whether it was from China, she said: ‘It would not be prudent to speculate on the origins of this object at this time.
‘It’s a cylindrical object we are working to analyze the debris to identify the specifics.
‘But it appears to be smaller in size than the one that was shot down off the coast of South Carolina.’
She said they are working to confirm further details.
‘At this point we can say that it appears to be a cylindrical object, smaller in size than the one shot down over the coast of North Carolina, and further details will be available as we have them.’
A White House source told NBC News on Saturday that the object was closely tracked over last 24 hours, and Biden was continually briefed. He authorized the F-22 activity.
NORAD earlier on Saturday said they were monitoring the balloon.
‘We have positively identified a high-altitude airborne object over Northern Canada,’ said Major Olivier Gallant, a NORAD spokesperson, in a statement.
‘While we cannot discuss specifics related to these activities at this time, please note that NORAD conducts sustained, dispersed operations in the defense of North America through one or all three NORAD regions.’
Earlier Saturday, Canada’s Global News has reported that security sources were monitoring ‘one or two more objects’ that they thought could be spy balloons.
A source told Fox News the earlier unidentified object was discovered ‘over Alaska not far from the northern coast’. The object was first spotted north of Anchorage, Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson tweeted.
It comes after sources told CNN the military had developed a method to track spy balloons last year – despite the object, which is said to be the size of a small car, not being picked up on radar until after it was over Alaska.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby revealed on Friday it had been shot down within an hour of an order issued by President Joe Biden. The Pentagon has since sent military helicopters to recover it from frozen waters.
Officials are yet to confirm what the object is or which country it belongs to. It is unclear if it is another Chinese spy balloon similar to the one shot down off the coast of South Carolina earlier this month.
Officials said it was traveling at an altitude that was potentially harmful for civilian aircrafts, The New York Times reported.
The object was taken down by an F-22 using an A9X missile out of Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson in Anchorage.
Several officials also said the object shattered into pieces after being struck by the missile, adding to the mystery of what the object truly is.
A US official revealed the pilots who intercepted the object said it had a cylindrical shape and no observable surveillance equipment attached.
The Pentagon has now launched a recovery operation to collect the debris from the surface of the frozen waters off Alaska.
The US began developing a system to detect spy balloons shortly after Biden took office in 2021, after a Chinese spy balloon briefly flew over the US.
They used the balloon’s signals to run test to see where other balloons might have popped up in the past.
What they found allowed them to create a consistent technical method to track balloons around the world.
They began using the method in 2022 and has not revealed how it was ultimately developed or how signals are detected, according to CNN.
Biden called the second Alaska operation a ‘success’ when asked by reporters at the White House – but Republicans were quick to ask why the US didn’t shoot down the Beijing surveillance balloon earlier.
‘So we can shoot down suspicious objects BEFORE they get over our border… Just as I suggested,’ Kansas Republican Senator Roger Marshall tweeted Friday afternoon.
Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican, said in a Friday press release that he ‘appreciated the senior Defense Department officials who briefed me this morning on the sighting of this latest object.
‘As I’ve been doing for the past week, including in a classified briefing with senior Pentagon officials yesterday, I strongly encouraged the NORTHCOM Commander this morning to shoot down this latest unidentified intrusion into Alaska air space,’ Sullivan said.
‘I commend them for doing so today.
‘As I reiterated with senior Defense Department officials yesterday, we need to reestablish deterrence with regard to Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, which believes they can willfully infiltrate American airspace whenever they want.
‘That has to stop. The best way to do this is through the type of actions that we’ve taken today in Alaska and to publicly reiterate that we will be shooting down any and all unknown aircraft that violate our airspace.
‘We also need to appropriately equip our military in Alaska with the sensors and aircraft needed to detect and, if necessary, destroy everything from slow-moving balloons to hypersonic missiles.
‘Alaska is the frontline of defense for our nation. The past few weeks have made this even more evident.’
The Pentagon said on Wednesday that four previous Chinese spy balloon flights over the United States passed over sites that would be ‘of interest to the Chinese’.
Officials did not elaborate on the paths the balloons took or whether the US sites were military ones.
Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, Pentagon spokesman, said the United States was aware of the four past flights before it detected the latest Chinese balloon prior to its arrival over Alaska on January 28.
A US military fighter jet shot down that balloon off the South Carolina coast, triggering condemnation from China, which claimed it was a civilian air vessel.
China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft and threatened repercussions.
Biden issued the order but had wanted the balloon downed even earlier, on Wednesday.
He was advised that the best time for the operation would be when it was over water, US officials said.
Military officials determined that bringing it down over land from an altitude of 60,000 feet would pose an undue risk to people on the ground from falling debris.
China responded that it reserved the right to ‘take further actions’ and criticized the US for ‘an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice.’