High-altitude balloon intercepted by US fighters 'likely hobby balloon', NORAD says

ByLuis Martinez and Matt Seyler ABCNews logo
Saturday, February 24, 2024
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A balloon intercepted by fighter aircraft over Utah on Friday was a "likely hobby balloon" and has since left United States airspace, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said Saturday.

The "small balloon" was allowed to continue to fly above the U.S. after being intercepted Friday morning at an altitude of 43,000 to 45,000 feet because it has been determined not to pose a national security threat, NORAD said.

"After yesterday's fighter intercepts, and in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, the North American Aerospace Defense Command monitored the likely hobby balloon via ground radars until it left US airspace overnight," NORAD said in a statement on Saturday.

NORAD said it has no additional information on the balloon.

A U.S. official described the balloon as being 50 feet tall and carrying a payload that is the size of a two-foot cube. It is not known what the payload might be carrying, the official said.

"The balloon was intercepted by NORAD fighters over Utah, who determined it was not maneuverable and did not present a threat to national security," NORAD said in a statement on Friday.

The balloon also posed no hazard to flight safety, NORAD said.

The development comes slightly more than a year after a Chinese spy balloon was tracked across the United States before being shot down by U.S. fighters over U.S. territorial waters east of South Carolina.

That balloon measured nearly 200 feet in height, was equipped with a payload described as being the length of three school buses that carried intelligence sensors and was capable of being maneuvered remotely.

That incident created tensions between the United States and China that have only recently improved.

NORAD subsequently made adjustments to its sensors to increase the detection of high-altitude balloons flying across the U.S. and Canada that led to the shootdown of smaller balloons over Alaska, Canada's Yukon Territory, and Lake Huron.