U.S. fighter jets shot down on Sunday afternoon an airborne object flying at 20,000 feet over Michigan’s Lake Huron, defense officials said, after the object apparently flew from Montana to the Great Lakes region and passed over “sensitive” U.S. military sites during its flight.
It is the third shoot-down of an unidentified flying object over North America in as many days and comes about a week after the U.S. also shot down a massive Chinese surveillance balloon that traveled over the entire country.
Speaking to reporters in a hastily arranged press conference Sunday night, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, would not classify the object as a “balloon.”
He also would not speculate on its country of origin and would not rule out the possibility that the objects may be extraterrestrial in nature.
“I haven’t ruled anything out at this point,” Gen. VanHerck said.
While the military is still piecing together the details, Gen. VanHerck said it is “likely” that the small object shot down over Lake Huron is the same object first detected by radar near Havre, Montana, on Saturday evening. NORAD dispatched U.S. fighter jets to investigate that object but were not able to locate it.
Gen. VanHerck said the object was spotted again early Sunday morning over Wisconsin. He said the object did not pose a “military threat” to critical infrastructure or citizens on the ground. But because it was traveling at an altitude of about 20,000 feet, officials said it represented a clear danger to civilian air traffic.
“We did not assess it to be a kinetic military threat to anything on the ground, but assess it was a safety flight hazard and a threat due to its potential surveillance capabilities,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “Our team will now work to recover the object in an effort to learn more.”
Gen. VanHerck said the object began “drifting” after it was struck by a U.S. missile, and it likely landed in the Canadian waters of Lake Huron. Crews are now searching for the wreckage.
So far, it’s not clear how the objects are able to even stay in the air, raising even more questions.
“I am not able to characterize how they stay aloft,” Gen. VanHerck said. “It could be a gaseous type of balloon inside a structure, or it could be some type of propulsion system. But clearly they’re able to stay aloft.”
U.S. fighter jets also shot down objects over the Alaska coast and over Canada’s Yukon Territory on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Top U.S. lawmakers indicated Sunday that those objects also were balloons, despite Gen. VanHerck’s caution against drawing any firm conclusions.
The object shot down on Sunday was flying at a much lower altitude, 20,000 feet, than the two shot down earlier in the weekend. Both of those objects were flying at about 40,000 feet. The first Chinese spy balloon reported was at an altitude of about 60,000 feet.
Rep. Jack Bergman, Michigan Republican, told Fox News that the latest object, which he described as octagonal in shape, was shot down by U.S. F-16 fighter jets using Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. He said it went into Lake Huron with no damage to people or property.
Mr. Bergman, who told Fox he had been briefed by the Pentagon, was among the lawmakers who first revealed Sunday’s military operation, on social media.
“I’ve been in contact with DOD regarding operations across the Great Lakes region today. The US military has decommissioned another ‘object’ over Lake Huron,” he said in a Twitter post. “I appreciate the decisive action by our fighter pilots. The American people deserve far more answers than we have.”
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, Michigan Democrat, confirmed the incident in tweets of her own.
“The object has been downed by pilots from the US Air Force and National Guard. Great work by all who carried out this mission both in the air and back at headquarters. We’re all interested in exactly what this object was and its purpose,” she said.