The U.S. shot down an object over Alaska. The government doesn't know yet what it was
Updated February 10, 2023 at 3:46 PM ET
The U.S. military shot down a "high-altitude object" over Alaska within the last hour, said John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
The object was tracked over Alaska at an altitude of 40,000 feet over the past 24 hours, Kirby told reporters at the White House briefing. It was deemed to pose a "reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flights" and "out of an abundance of caution" Biden ordered it to be shot down at the recommendation of Pentagon leaders, Kirby said.
The object landed inside U.S. territorial waters, which currently are frozen. He said it's not known what the object is, what it was doing, or whether it was state-owned or privately owned. Kirby said the debris is expected to be recovered.
Like all Alaskans, I appreciate and am proud of the professional work of our Alaska-based military. Today’s shoot-down of another unidentified object over Alaska takes skill, precision, discipline and proficiency. (1/8)— Sen. Dan Sullivan (@SenDanSullivan) February 10, 2023
"It was much, much smaller than the spy balloon we took down last Saturday," he said, describing it as the size of a small car.
Unlike the Chinese spy balloon – which the U.S. knew was a surveillance asset – Kirby said it's unclear what this object was doing over Alaska. This new object was at a much lower altitude than the spy balloon, which was at 65,000 feet.
"The predominant concern by the president [about the new object] was a safety of flight issue at that altitude," Kirby said.
"It did not appear to have the maneuverable capability that the other one did – so [it was] virtually at the whim of the wind," he said.
The debris field for object is expected to be smaller, he said.
The military first became aware of the object last evening, Kirby said, declining to give a more specific time.
He said fighter aircraft went "up and around" the object, and the pilot's assessment was that it was not manned.
The object debris landed "just off the very, very northeastern part of Alaska" near the Canadian border, on the frozen Arctic Ocean, Kirby said. He said the debris may be easier to recover because it is on ice.
"We haven't ruled anything in or out" about the purpose of the object, Kirby said.
Fighter pilots did at least two passes past the object, Kirby said.
The first was at night, making it difficult to discern much information. Another pass was this morning, he said.
"They worked really hard to try to get as much info as they could about this object," Kirby said.
"Given its size, which was much smaller, and the capabilities on the fighter aircraft themselves, the speed at which they were flying, it was difficult for the pilots to glean a whole lot of information," he said.
Biden gave the order to shoot the flight down this morning, Kirby said.
Kirby reiterated that the predominant reason was shooting it down was the risk to aircraft.
"This thing did not appear to be self-maneuvering so therefore at the mercy of prevailing winds, it was much less predictable. The president just wasn't willing to take that risk," he said.
At a Pentagon briefing later, spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the unknown object was shot down by a F-22 fighter jet at 1:45 pm ET over northeast Alaska. When pressed by reporters about whether the object was a balloon, Ryder said he didn't want to "characterize" it yet. He said "we don't know origin of this object," but that, based on a "reasonable threat to civilian air traffic," the decision was taken to take it down.
This story will be updated
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