WASHINGTON (CN) — A U.S. military fighter jet shot down an object flying over Alaska, national security officials announced Friday afternoon, emphasizing that the action was taken out of an abundance of caution and to safeguard against interference with civilian flights.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, noted at a press conference that there is no conclusion yet as to what the object is, who it belongs to, or what it was doing — only that it had been tracked for the last 24 hours hovering 40,000 feet above Alaska.
Just 24 hours earlier, the State Department released its preliminary findings about the giant Chinese surveillance balloon that another U.S. military jet had shot down off the coast of North Carolina after a weeklong cross-country flight.
Kirby noted that the object over Alaska “was much, much smaller than the spy balloon we took down last Saturday,” estimating the size of the latest object as comparable to that of a small car. He said last week's balloon that has been traced to the Chinese military meanwhile was about “two or three bus sizes."
No pilot was manning the device Friday, Kirby said, adding that “it did not appear to have the maneuverable capability that the other one did; it was at the mercy of the wind."
The debris from the object brought down on Friday landed in the northeastern quadrant of Alaska on the frozen Arctic Ocean near the Canadian border.
“We do expect to be able to recover debris,” Kirby said, noting that the landing on ice may aid the salvage mission, and that the Pentagon expects to have more information soon.
“We haven't ruled anything in or out,” Kirby said.
The order to down the object Friday came from President Joe Biden at the recommendation of the Pentagon.
“It came inside our territorial waters," Kirby said. "Those waters right now are frozen but inside territorial airspace and over territorial waters."
In contrast to the instrument from Friday, the U.S. knew that last week's ballon was a surveillance device from China when it took it out. While China said the flying object was a weather balloon blown off course, American U-2 planes took photos of the device that showed it had technology inconsistent with weather balloons, including large solar panels and multiple antennas.
Following an eight-day flight at approximately 65,000 feet across the U.S., fighter jets downed the estimated 200-foot tall balloon off the coast of South Carolina. Navy divers salvaged debris from the balloon the next morning, sending it to various FBI laboratories for analysis.
U.S. officials indicated Thursday that the Chinese spy balloon was part of a fleet designed to surveil U.S. military operations, and that China has helmed similar flights over more than 40 countries and five continents. Retaliatory measures against Beijing are purportedly being studied.
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