Balloon over US was likely hobbyist, officials says

Defense officials say the small balloon intercepted over Utah Friday likely belonged to a hobbyist. 

NORAD, a joint military command tasked with defending the airspace over the U.S. and Canada, gave an update on Saturday and said the balloon left U.S. airspace sometime Friday night. 

"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," the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said Saturday in a statement. 

NORAD fighters detected the small balloon –  which was made of Mylar and had a small cube-shaped box hanging from it, according to CBS News – flying at an altitude between 43,000 and 45,000 feet. 

NORAD declined to specify where in Utah pilots encountered it.


FILE - NORAD conducts training in Toronto on July 30, 2020. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

"The balloon was intercepted by NORAD fighters over Utah, who determined it was not maneuverable and did not present a threat to national security," the Friday statement said. "The FAA also determined the balloon posed no hazard to flight safety."

There has been heightened interest in reports of balloon overflights after the military identified — and eventually shot down — a large, white Chinese spy balloon that crossed much of the country last year. But officials said the balloon intercepted Friday was not sent by a foreign adversary and posed no threat to aviation or U.S. security.

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The Chinese balloon that was downed last year off the coast of South Carolina after a weeklong path over multiple military sites was part of a global surveillance program that Beijing has been conducting for "several years," according to the Pentagon. It was outfitted with advanced technology designed to collect intelligence signals, the Biden administration said.

China denied that it was conducting military surveillance and said it was a civilian balloon that accidentally veered off course while collecting weather data. After it was shot down, Chinese officials said they reserved the right to "take further actions" and criticized the U.S. for "an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice."

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Similar spy balloons linked to the People’s Liberation Army — the military wing of China’s ruling Communist Party — have been detected floating over five continents. Just last month, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry detected four Chinese balloons, including three reportedly flying by a key air force base.

The Associated Press and Fox News contributed to this report.