- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2023

The U.S. has called off its search for two of the still unidentified objects shot down over North American airspace last week, according to a report.

Officials came up empty-handed after nearly a week of searching for the objects shot down by U.S. fighters off the coast of northern Alaska and over Lake Huron.

A U.S. official told the New York Times on Friday that the searches were ended after conditions became too difficult to continue.

The officials said Canadian authorities will continue to search for a third object shot down over the Yukon region last Saturday.

President Biden addressed the shoot downs Thursday after facing bipartisan pressure to allay public fears over the objects.

Mr. Biden said the objects were likely not linked to China. He said he gave the order to shoot them down “out of an abundance of caution.”

He said the intelligence community still doesn’t know what the three unidentified objects over North America were, but it is not believed there was anything nefarious about them.

“The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting scientific research,” he said.

An Illinois hobbyist club says one of its high-altitude balloons disappeared off the coast of Alaska on Feb. 10, offering a potential explanation for one of the three still unidentified objects.

The Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade, as the group is known, said its silver-coated pico balloon last reported its position Feb. 10 at 38,910 feet off the west coast of Alaska.

Using a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasting tool, the group estimates the cylindrically shaped balloon would have drifted above Canada’s Yukon territory Feb. 11, the same day the U.S. scrambled F-22 fighters to shoot down an object matching a similar description and altitude.

Details of the group’s missing balloon were first reported by Aviation Week.

Pico balloons are small, moderately priced high-altitude balloons of varying sizes and payloads. The hobby combines ham radio with high-altitude ballooning.

The group says it has no definitive proof that its balloon was shot down, but other enthusiasts in the tight-knit pico-ballooning community have raised suspicions.

Federal officials have not said whether they are considering hobby balloons in their investigation into the unknown objects.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to weigh in on the missing hobby balloon on Friday, adding that the administration would be unable to confirm what was shot down until the debris is recovered. The task has proved challenging for the Pentagon.

“We all have to accept the possibility that we may not be able to recover [the objects],” he said.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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