Joe Biden may have ordered the US Air Force to shoot down a hobbyist group’s small balloon by mistake, it has emerged.
US officials said on Friday that efforts by the military to recover the remnants of a large object that was shot down off the South Carolina coast had ended and that analysis of the debris had reinforced suggestions that it was a Chinese spy balloon.
They also said the search for a small airborne object shot down over Lake Huron had ended without recovering anything.
The US and Canada have also failed to recover any debris from two objects shot down over the Yukon and northern Alaska. But there is a further balloon that remains unaccounted for.
The Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade (NIBBB), a group based in Illinois, said one of its pico balloons went “missing in action” on February 11. It disappeared on the same day and in the same area, the US military shot down three unidentified objects near Alaska.
A member of NIBBB said on Friday: “When I heard that [it was a] silver object with a payload attached to it, [I thought] that could be one of our balloons.”
The hobbyist, who asked not to be named, told the Politico website that government officials had been in contact.
“I’m an American and I don’t want anything bad to happen to our country. If they don’t know, I’d rather that they err in shooting down $100 worth of balloon stuff than have something bad go over Canada or the US,” the hobbyist said, adding that they were “not angry at all”.
In a blog post reported by Aviation Week, the group said: “Pico Balloon K9YO last reported on February 11 at 00:48 near Hagemeister Island after 123 days and 18 hours of flight.” Senator Ted Cruz joked that President Biden provided a “powerful deterrence for any high school science clubs that might try to invade America”.
Pico ballooning is a hobby that combines high-altitude ballooning and ham radio and creates a homespun form of global surveillance.
“The plastic balloons will stay up for several months, during which time they’ll circumnavigate the globe, and then eventually the wind and weather get to them,” said Dave Akerman, a member of the UK High Altitude Society, who has launched nearly 100 balloons.
The Daily Telegraph, London