Published February 12, 2023

Object over Yukon ordered shot down because of threat posed to aircraft: Trudeau

The object was about 160 km from the Alaskan border when it was destroyed

By Mia Rabson in Ottawa

Canadian recovery teams are searching the Yukon wilderness for the remnants of an object shot down by American military planes Saturday afternoon and which the United States is now identifying as a small surveillance balloon.

"Recovery teams" are searching for the downed object, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday, so they can analyze it.

"There's still much to know about it," he said. "That's why the analysis of this object is going to be very important."

The prime minister spoke to reporters briefly at the airport before boarding a plane bound for Yukon on a trip that was planned before Saturday's incident but will now include meetings with local government and Indigenous leaders about what happened.

Defence Minister Anita Anand said Saturday the object was "potentially similar" to the Chinese spy balloon destroyed off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4.

That belief was confirmed Sunday morning by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who told ABC"s Sunday morning news show that U.S. national security officials believe the Yukon object, and another one shot down over Alaska Friday, were also surveillance balloons.

"They believe they were, yes, but much smaller than the first one," Schumer said on "This Week."

The undercarriage of the first balloon, which contains the surveillance equipment, was located mostly intact in the water on Friday, but efforts to extract it were delayed until at least Monday because of rough seas.

That first balloon was described as being about the size of three school buses and weighing about 450 kg.

The second object that was shot down over Alaska Friday was said to be about the size of a small car. It has not yet been recovered.

No size estimate has yet been given on the third one shot down over Yukon. Anand's office did not immediately respond to queries Sunday about the recovery mission.

The initial balloon was flying at about 18,000 metres, which is higher than most civilian aircraft. The second and third were spotted at altitudes of about 12,000 metres, which is at the top end of the normal cruising height for more commercial airplanes.

Trudeau said at that height, the object over Yukon "represented a reasonable threat to civilian aircraft, so I gave the order to take it down."

The object was about 160 km from the Alaskan border when it was destroyed. It was first detected Friday night over Alaska, and two U.S. F-22 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept, identify and track it.

The North American Aerospace Defence Command publicly revealed its presence over northern Canada on Saturday afternoon. Both American and Canadian military jets were scrambled to take it out under the command of NORAD.

It was shot down a short time later by one of the U.S. F-22s.

Canadian and U.S. authorities have had little to say about the objects or their intended purpose beyond surveillance. China has insisted the first balloon was a meteorological surveillance balloon that accidentally drifted off course and into the U.S.

U.S. officials said the first balloon originated in China, and over the course of less than a week travelled across Alaska, through parts of Canada into Montana and then across the continental U.S. until it was shot down off the coast of South Carolina near Myrtle Beach.

Trudeau spoke to U.S. President Joe Biden Saturday about the situation, but had little to say to Canadians watching the events with concern.

"You can know that this is something that NORAD and Canada and the United States are taking extremely seriously, and we will continue to keep people informed as we know more," he said.

Banner image: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media Sunday, February 12, 2023, in Ottawa before boarding a flight to the Yukon. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press.

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