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U.S. and Canada call off search for unidentified airborne objects that were shot down

Sailors recovered debris from the Chinese balloon off the South Carolina coast. The other objects shot down has not been recovered.
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Sailors recovered debris from the Chinese balloon off the South Carolina coast. The other objects shot down has not been recovered.

The U.S. and Canada's search for three unidentified airborne objects shot down earlier this month is now over, with no debris found.

The shootdowns came during a period of heightened concern over national security and espionage. On Feb. 2, a balloon belonging to China could be seen floating in U.S. airspace, leading to a larger search for potential threats in the skies.

U.S. fighter jets would later shoot down unidentified airborne objects near the Alaskan northern coast on Feb. 10, over Canada's central Yukon on Feb. 11 and over Lake Huron near Michigan's Upper Peninsula on Feb. 12. They were the first known peacetime shootdowns of unauthorized objects in U.S. airspace.

President Biden has said the objects most likely belonged to private companies or research institutions.

While the U.S. did successfully locate debris from the Chinese balloon it shot down on Feb. 4, both countries have come up empty-handed in other searches. After exhaustive multiday efforts, both U.S. and Canadian officials called off their searches on Friday.

In a press release, the U.S. Northern Command said it called off searches near Deadhorse, Alaska, and in Lake Huron that involved "airborne imagery and sensors, surface sensors and inspections, and subsurface scans." The U.S. also lifted air and maritime safety perimeters at both sites.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it was concluding its search in the Yukon due to "decreasing probability the object will be found and the current belief the object is not tied to a scenario that justifies extraordinary search efforts."

Both U.S. and Canadian officials said that weather conditions, like sea ice instability and snowfall, made the search difficult.

The Pentagon said debris from the Chinese balloon it shot down on Feb. 4 off the coast of South Carolina is being sent to the FBI's lab in Virginia for testing. The U.S. said the balloon was being used to surveil the U.S., while China maintains that it was part of a civilian research project.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.
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